Makoto Fujimura's Silence and Beauty is a book worth reading more than once.

Silence and Beauty reads like a book review. After several pages, this assessment changes and you kind of start looking at it as a memoir of some sorts. Truly, Silence and Beauty is both review and memoir, but a remarkable trait of this book is the ease with which it navigates between the two identities.

Silence and Beauty is written by the award winning contemporary artist, Makoto Fujimura. The book is an exploration of another book titled Silence by Shusaku Endo. Silence is a historical fiction about a Jesuit priest who ventures into 17th century Japan to seek out his mentor who is rumoured to have turned into an apostate. The priest manages to enter Japan, but from his arrival notices the influences of an ongoing persecution that has led to the deaths of several local Christians.

The Japanese Christian persecution, which springs from a shogun's effort to wipe out Christianity from Japan, soon sweeps up the newly-arrived priest in its wake.  Even when the priest finds his old mentor, it was as an enemy working for the shogun. Amidst the calamity going on is Kichijiro, a local Christian and a drunk who denies his faith every time he is caught by Shogun's men. Kichijiro does much to harm his fellow christians, but he tries to find redemption by helping them in some ways too. Though the persecution claims many lives, Kichijiro finds a way to survive.

Silence and Beauty examines Shusaku Endo' s fiction (Silence) under the theme of suffering, God, and Japan. The book looks at the underlying interpretation of Silence on these issues as well as Shusaku Endo's personal life. It shines a light on the fallacy of the western narrative of triumphantlist faith - the one that overcomes, stood steadfast, and strong in the face of its enemies. Silence and Beauty talks about failed faith - the faith that crumbles under persecution, that hides the light of God under scrutiny and tries to survive and live on in extreme circumstances. The author writes:

We have a tendency to extol heroes of faith; our textbooks and our sermons are filled with the heroic. In doing so, we fall into a false dichotomy of seeing faith only in terms of victory or failure, which leads us to dismiss and discard the weak.

On the memoir side of things, the author of Silence and Beauty takes a look at his own Christian journey and finds similarities with Kichijiro. He also observes the modern Japaneses society, where Christianity is close to non-existence. He observes that the Japanese prevalent culture of silence as well as hiding individual thoughts and expressions is not an accident but a spill-over from their history of bloodshed and repression. However, he holds out a bit of hope for his country and prays that the sacrifices of the Christians of old will fire-up the change needed in Japan.

Silence and Beauty is altogether a fine read, though a bit dark-ish. This is a book with heavy shackles. Its emotionally heavy contents will slow you down as you plough through while ruminating on difficult but accurate observations of the Japanese mindset, faith, art and life. This is a book for those who love to think.


Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for review copy.

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