Study Guide

Silence

By Shusaku Endo

Silence Introduction

Correct us if we're wrong, but we're going to go out on a limb and say that if Martin Scorsese adapts a book into a movie, you can be reasonably certain that it's going to be an awesome book.

Silence is such a book.

Wait, what? Yes, it's true—the legendary director of edgy crime dramas like Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street has been obsessed with a little book about Jesuit priests in Japan for over two decades. That's a ringing endorsement if we've ever heard it.

Published in 1966 by legendary Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo, Silence follows Father Sebastien Rodrigues, a Jesuit priest, as he performs missionary work in Japan during the height of the country's persecution of Christians in the 1600s. His mission: to learn the truth about his former teacher, who supposedly renounced his faith after being captured and tortured. Sure, there might not be any mobsters or Wall Street bigwigs in this one, but don't let that trip you up—this thing is intense.

Consider Silence a tour of 1600s Japan. We encounter hordes of Japanese Christians more devoted to Christianity than Ron Swanson is to bacon. We meet powerful samurai who can sentence entire villages to death without breaking a sweat. We even meet a former priest or two: men whose rejection of Christianity shakes Rodrigues to his core. And in the midst of this, the poor priest is left scratching his head as to what it all means.

Frankly, we're not entirely sure ourselves, and that's why we love the book so much. You might expect a novel with such heavy religious themes to beat you over the head with them, but that's simply not the case here. If you're looking for a novel that's subtle, powerful, and totally moving, then you could do a lot worse than Silence.

What is Silence About and Why Should I Care?

Silence is a novel about European Catholics who visit Japan, written by a Japanese Catholic who visited Europe. We don't know about you, but that little mind-bender is enough to get us hooked.

Okay, so maybe a few rather racist Jesuit priests aren't exactly the most likable protagonists in the world. And, yes, it's odd that a book written by a devout Catholic spends so much time talking about the failures of the Church. And double yes, we know that the mere thought of a religious novel is enough to send you snoozing like you were in Sunday school.

But here's the thing—none of that matters.

When push comes to shove, Silence is all about self-doubt. Frankly, it doesn't even matter if you're religious. You could be doubting your current life path. You could be doubting your current romantic partner. Heck, you could be doubting why you started reading this analysis in the first place. Regardless, Silence will show you how quickly the radiation of bitterness can make your doubts grow Godzilla-sized and trample the city of your heart.

Still want to put this book down?

Silence Resources

WEBSITES

Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan
Want to know what's going on these days with Japanese Catholics? We've got you covered.

The Jesuits
This site provides a lot of great information on the Jesuits, the Catholic brotherhood that Father Rodrigues represents.

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

Silence (2016)
Martin Scorsese has apparently been fighting to make the film adaption of Silence for over two decades, and his dream is finally coming true.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

A Conversation between Shusaku Endo and Translator William Johnston
Check out this stellar chat between Shusaku Endo and William Johnston, Jesuit priest and translator of the English edition of Silence.

Japan's History of Hidden Christians
This article provides some great insight into the real-life history of Japanese Christianity, as well as the modern Japanese Christian community's relationship with the Catholic Church.

Jesus in Japan
On the less serious side, here's a compelling piece from Slate about the Takenouchi Documents, a questionable set of religious texts claiming that Jesus faked his death so he could move to Japan.

VIDEO

Three Commercial Starring Shusaku Endo
When he isn't writing heady novels, Shusaku Endo seems to star in an awful lot of commercials. Not that we're complaining—these things are amazing.

The Pope's Visit to Japan
This news report documents a meeting between Pope Francis and leaders of the Japanese Catholic Church, touching on some of the history depicted in Silence.

The Hidden Christians of Japan
This brief documentary describes the traditions and culture of the Japanese Christian community.

AUDIO

Christianity in Japan
Still want to learn more about the history of Christianity in Japan? Check out this episode from the Research on Religion podcast.

Approaching Silence
For a more intellectually-minded discussion of Silence, check out this podcast from the New Books Network.

IMAGES

A Hidden Virgin Mary
This statue was once used by Japanese Christians for secret religious services, which is why it might not look like the Virgin Mary statues you're used to.

A Fumie
This is an example of a fumie, a piece of religious iconography that Japanese Christians were forced to stomp to prove that they weren't Christians.