Friday, January 14, 2011

Japan's Catholic Man of Letters

Joan Frawley Desmond's appreciation of "the much-decorated Japanese writer who died in 1996, [and who] was intensely absorbed with the task of living as a Japanese and as a believing Christian" — Shusaku Endo's Borrowed Faith. We read of a writer who "seemed to doubt the capacity of the Japanese to accept moral absolutes" and "focused on the contradiction between the humility of the biblical Jesus and the cultural arrogance of European Christianity."

Above, the two books I've read by him. The author notes, "Among Nagasaki Christians who revere the martyrs, Silence remains extremely controversial," as Endo "concern[s] himself with apostates, spurning the martyrs of that era." Leave it to a "Nagasaki Protestant minister" the author mentions who "has noted that the 'silence' Endo describes was not reflected in the experience of the Japanese martyrs who died praising God." The author suggests that Endo "singled out the apostates with the purpose of asking some pointed questions: Christians are repelled by their spinelessness, but don't these outlaws demonstrate the depths of man's weakness and his attendant need for Christ and his Church?"

I found that the second book lacked any such deep theological pointed questions, but seemed rather indicative of the liberal and quasi-indifferentist theology the Japanese Church has become known for. That said, it's well worth a read and I agree fully with the critic's assessment: "Whether the reader is persuaded by Endo's arguments or not, his greatest works are literary treasures, enriching mankind's search for truth, penetrating the boundaries that divide the East from the West."

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Blogger Josh said...

I looked forward to reading "Silence" but was almost disappointed upon finally reading it. It just seemed to drag...

"Scandal" is really interesting, a page-turner. In my mind it has weird affinities with Mishima's "The Temple of Dawn."

And I had a collection of short stories called "Stained Glass Elegies" (I believe it's a compilation of two earlier books) that was very good.

12:46 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

One thing that disappointed me about "Silence" was that the whole structure seemed to lack verisimilitude. There was a point where the protagonist, Father Ribeira, would have been unable to write his letters to his Jesuit superiors.

Thanks for the recommendations. Mishima always left me a bit cold, but I have enjoyed reading Kawabata and Oe.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Yeah, the narration bothered me too. If I remember correctly, it begins as letters, and keeps on being letters for a really annoyingly (and as you say, unrealistically) long time, and then switches over to non-letter narration that uses almost the same tone.

To clarify, the affinity with "The Temple of Dawn" has nothing to do with the morality that informs the author, but rather with a strangely high number of matching plot elements. It's probably just a strange coincidence.

Have you ever seen the movie "Mishima: a life in four chapters"? Even if you don't like Mishima, I think it's fascinating for its stylistic technique alone. It intersperses realistic color footage, which is "real life," black-and-white footage with a voiceover, which is flashback, and segments from his novels, which are presented as if in a stage play. It's a brilliant way of doing a biopic of an author.

12:14 PM  

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.