This novel is set in 17th-century Japan, at a time when Christianity has been outlawed, and Christians are imprisoned and tortured so that they will renounce their faith. Nevertheless, various missionary groups from Europe, both Catholic and Protestant, continue to arrive in Japan in hopes of spreading the Christian religion there. One such missionary is Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese priest who believes that God is calling him to minister to His church in Japan. Rodrigues also hopes to find his former teacher and mentor, Father Ferreira, who is rumored to have renounced Christianity and adopted a traditional Japanese lifestyle. When Rodrigues arrives in Japan, his enthusiasm for his mission slowly declines as he sees Christian peasants being tortured and executed for their faith. For the first time, he experiences serious doubts in the face of God’s silence: if He exists, why does He allow his faithful disciples to suffer? As Rodrigues struggles with this question, he must eventually decide whether his faith is truly worth defending at any cost.
This book is laser-focused on a single issue: God’s silence in the face of suffering, and the implications of that for a person of faith. If this is an issue that interests you at all, I would definitely recommend this book! The writing style is sparse and direct, enhancing the nature of the stark choice that confronts Sebastian Rodrigues. The character’s struggle really rang true for me, and there are certainly no easy answers in this book. For me the most compelling character was Kichijiro, the Japanese guide who shelters Father Rodrigues and his companions but later betrays them. He is a weak, pathetic, utterly despicable character, yet Rodrigues comments that “Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt….” In sum, this book isn’t a particularly fun or quick read, but I think it’s an important one for anyone interested in questions of faith or in the clash between Western religion and Eastern culture.