Endō Shūsaku is enjoying a renaissance among readers worldwide. His best-known novel, Silence, was adapted into a feature film by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese in 2017. With the release of Sachiko, gracefully translated by Van C. Gessel, fans and new readers alike will discover a profound meditation on the meaning of love, sacrifice, and the spiritual dilemma of Christian beliefs vying against the demands of the nation-state.
Spanning the years 1930-1945 in Nagasaki, Sachiko and Shūhei are Japanese Christians coming of age at a time when Christianity is still considered a foreign and “enemy” faith. Growing up, they share in the joys of a carefree childhood of play, even as they experience the awkward and humiliating questions and suspicions of their non-Christian neighbors and authorities. As the years go by, war looms and challenges their Christian convictions of non-violence. But love still finds a way to create itself, as Sachiko and Shūhei realize their feelings for one another amid the tumultuous forces pulling them apart. Endō’s prose is at turns playful and serious as the two navigate their complicated emotions with a realism that is quite refreshing.
Endō’s finest moments, however, are in his evocations of the one place on earth where love cannot possibly exist: Auschwitz. This is where Father Kolbe, a Polish Christian missionary, finds himself upon his return from the Nagasaki mission Sachiko visited as a young girl. Inside this barb-wired hell, Endō peels back the psyche of prisoners and jailers as they witness a supreme act of sacrifice they can neither explain nor understand. These passages are devastating and mesmerizing.
Sachiko is yet another example of Endō Shūsaku’s stunning literary artistry that demands more than one reading. Highly recommended.