One of the books I’ve been recommended more than any other, by a myriad of friends, over the past few years, is the classic novel Silence. Having flicked through it as a teenager – a well meaning teacher thought it might help with my depression, little knowing that my problem was not a perceived distance from God, but a chemical and social imbalance – I was keen to take up the challenge. I’ve since been employed by a publisher that produced a film tie-in version of the book. All, perhaps, little hints that reviewing this book might be a good idea. It was not, however, until a trusted friend gave me a copy for my birthday (the same friend, in fact, who has a track record of giving good things).
And so I read this book. This novel. This non-descript paperback amongst the many books I plan to read this year.
And I was profoundly moved.
Bluntly, in my opinion, this is not a very good novel. It certainly offers no escapism, little humour (Though what is there, is brilliant), and little that I would associate with relaxed reading of a story. It is also – as I hope to explore in a future post – packed with genuinely terrible theology. Yet in amongst that, in amongst the history and the horror, the beauty and the persecution, the Roman Catholicism and the Japanese culture, is a compelling story. In this novel there is a wonderful sense of reality – even as it is hidden behind the reality of the context, the reality of the pain, the reality of the suffering endured by those trying to be ‘Christian’ in Japan at a time when that was not possible.
This is a novel that, in the 500th Year of the Reformation, points beyond our human constructions of priesthood into the arms of the great high priest. This is a novel that engages deeply and carefully with the pain of being punished and beaten for doing what you thought was right. This is a novel that engages honestly, without resolution or real conclusion, with the question of how God speaks, of how Jesus is present in suffering, of what it means to visibly and publicly have faith in Christ.
This is also a novel that viscerally and boldly puts forth the clash of kingdoms. East/West. Religion/Faith. Empire/rebellion. Authority/persecution. This is a book that is not afraid of contradiction and confrontation. A story you cannot remain neutral with regard to. Silence is my favourite fiction of the year so far, and the historical novel that others will have to work to beat.
I’m reading quite a few books this year. But this is the one I think I’ll end up talking most meaningfully about.