Anyone familiar with Asian literature knows of Shūsaku Endō’s famous novel, Silence, which described the phenomenal faith and persecution of the Christians (“Kirishitans”) in early 17th-century Japan. Now Endō continues the story of the cost of faith with a fictional account which takes place between the end of the Shogunate era and the beginning of the Meiji era (1868).
Mitsu and Kiku are two Japanese teens who are about to begin work in the city of Nagasaki. They are strictly exhorted to stay away from any men from Nakano or Motoharo, the place where the “Kuros” live. At the same time, French missionary priests arrive in Nagasaki. Father Petitjean has a single-minded desire, to find any secret Christians who survived the previous elimination. After his superior leaves Nagasaki, Petitjean’s wish is fulfilled, and he begins to shepherd a large (for Japan) community of secret believers, without realizing how costly his mission will be. However, the law is clear in Japan and is being strictly enforced.
At the same time, the government fears treating the Christians too harshly because of the reaction of foreign powers who are now living in Japan. Kiku falls in love with a Christian man, Seikichi, who symbolizes the Christians’ deep faith. Ito Seizaemon is the persecutor who is tortured by his admiration of these people yet unable to stop making them suffer even more.
The overwhelming beauty of Endo’s writing lies in the exquisite sensitivity in his descriptions of how these devoted followers of Jesus and Mary express their faith and how Kiku, an unbeliever, converses with the statue of Mary, whom she alternately loves and hates. Endo’s writing style had clearly matured by the time he wrote this story, which will be recognized as the classic Japanese story of Christianity it truly is. A wonderful, poignant and beautiful work of historical fiction – highly recommended!