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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Endo and faith

Reading a little further in Shusaku Endo after finishing the impressive novel Deep River; it seems a lot of his best work is in the short-story form, so picked up the collection The Final Martyrs, which covers his work over a span of about 30 years. In his short, insightful preface Endo writes that his stories create characters that go on living in his mind, and sometimes the characters and the materials of the short story go on to generate, years later, his novels. Yes, most writers will recognize this - we try out ideas in shorter forms first and then come to realize there's more to say about some of the characters and situations (sometimes the opposite is true: a fair # of novels really ought to be short stories), though few will carry it to the extreme of Endo, in which perhaps all of his novels originated in shorter form. From the first two stories - each of substantial length (more than most American literary magazines would take on) - we can see that a major theme throughout his work concerns the struggles of faith, particularly Christian faith in a largely Buddhist land, and martyrdom - definitely the theme of Deep River and we see it again in the title story and the 2nd story (Shadows, which I have not yet finished reading). The story The Final Martyrs concerns a group of Japanese Christians in the mid-19th century, just as Japan was opening to the West, and, though one might think this would lead to greater religious tolerance the opposite occurred (if this story is accurate historically): fearing dilution of Japanese customs and ideals, the government cracked down on Christian communities. In this story we see how the Christians on a remote village were imprisoned and tortured in efforts, mostly in vain, to get them to renounce their faith. The cruelty of the torturers is barbaric, but seems to be just an accepted fact of the era; most interesting is the despair of the martyrs, who begin to wonder what kind of god would want them to endure such torture in his name? Great question - one that Jews must have asked in the camps, one that traces back to the Book of Job, which gives to answer. The central character is the village coward, who in the end receives absolution, as his fellow prisoners tell him it's OK for him to be frightened. Small comfort, in my view. Faith, for Endo, is almost a compatriot of torture and suffering.

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