Review: Silence

SilenceShusaku Endo, Silence (trans. William Johnston)

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.

Review: The Three Musketeers

The Three MusketeersAlexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers (trans. Richard Pevear)

This classic novel, whose title is somewhat misleading, follows a young solider named D’Artagnan who travels from his native Gascony to Paris in order to join the musketeers, an elite military force that serves the king. D’Artagnan naively believes that he will swiftly realize his dream and make his fortune, but his simple goal soon becomes much more complicated. Through a series of accidents he befriends the three most prestigious musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. He also becomes involved in the struggle between King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, the two most powerful men in France. As a would-be musketeer, D’Artagnan is the king’s man, but his loyalty wavers when he meets the beautiful Milady, one of the cardinal’s most influential spies. With the help of his three friends, D’Artagnan must foil Milady’s sinister plot while fighting his own attraction for her.

I actually read this book when I was 12 or so, but I’m very glad I read it again now that I have at least some knowledge of the historical context! I find it very interesting that Dumas, who was writing in the 19th century (shortly after the Napoleonic era), chose to set this story during the 17th-century wars of religion, a similarly tumultuous time for France. But even without the bigger picture, this book is quite simply a rollicking good read! It’s a long book, but the story is gripping and seems to fly by. The strength of the book is definitely its plot; by contrast, the characters aren’t developed very well. It’s fun to watch D’Artagnan and the musketeers interact with each other, but they’re essentially stock characters (Athos is the noble one, Porthos is the buffoon, etc.). And Milady is an extremely flat villain who is Pure Evil ™ through and through. In my opinion, the scheming cardinal is by far the most interesting character! Regardless, I really enjoyed this book and would love to read the rest of the series…one of these years!