Silence by Shusaku Endo

silence

Originally published in 1966, then in translation in 1969, this book has gained recent popularity due to the release of the feature film of the same name.  This fictional account of the life of a Jesuit priest in 1640’s Japan is a story that depicts the battle between religious faith and doubt.  The “silence” of the title refers to God’s presumed silence to the suffering of the protagonist and those that by association are persecuted by Japanese authorities.  The conflict the protagonist faces is both internal and external.  The underlying irony of this story is twofold with the protagonist viewing his mission in Japan at first as truly righteous.  He does this even in the face of his former mentor and the Japanese authorities pointing out that he is an outsider presuming that he knows what is best for the Japanese by preaching about salvation and in doing so leading those that follow to persecution and death.  The other irony which is not overtly mentioned is that although the priest is condemning the Japanese for their persecution of Christians in Japan at the same time in Christian Europe heretics were being persecuted for not adhering to what was thought as the right form of Christianity.  Although this book is set in Medieval Japan it is not an overly historic work.  One learns more about this time period by reading Clavell’s Shogun in comparison; however this is not the point of the novel.  It is instead an internal religious discussion by the writer for readers to understand what it means to worship and have beliefs that are not shared by the majority and considered intrinsically foreign.  Silence by Shusaku Endo forces readers to confront how they may have given up their beliefs or ideals in order to conform and survive and get ahead in society. (Submitted by Shane)

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The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

cremation

 “There are strange things done/in the midnight sun/By the men who moil for gold/The Arctic trails have their secret tales/That would make your blood run cold/The Northern Lights/ have seen queer sights/But the queerest they ever did see/Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge/I cremated Sam McGee.”

Robert Service was a mild-mannered bank clerk in real life, but the way this poem makes the Arctic come alive, you’d think the man was a veteran of the Klondike. It’s funny; the version of Sam McGee I remember from my childhood conjures up images of grinning corpses, lonely cold, and complete silence, save for the sound of a lone sled’s runners slicing eerily through the snow. Bleak, strange, wildness…all surrounded by devastating, enveloping cold. When I pulled it off the shelves today and gave it a quick re-read, I was surprised (and delighted) to find that not only does it still have all that wildness, it’s funny, too. There is definite humour in these pages – the unnamed speaker of the poem lends some definite snark to the situation.

What a great tale. Each time I read this poem, I get chills. There are poems that have the ability to completely transport us to a specific time and place, and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee remains one of the best. Brrrrrrr!

P.S. Bonus Canadian points go to this edition because it’s illustrated by Ted Harrison. (Submitted by Veronica)

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