Category Archives: novelist

A Japanese Catholic novelist

Fifteen years ago today, Shusako Endo, a Japanese Catholic novelist died at the age of 73.

His novels and short stories are enlightening and disturbing, touching deep themes of faithfulness and images of God. His novel Silence treats the public apostasy but private faith of a missionary in 17th century Japan. He also wrote  A Life of Jesus. But the book I most appreciated was his collection of stories,  Stained Glass Elegies.

In my reading of Endo, these three quotes have been among the most challenging:

“It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

“In ‘maternal religion’ Christ comes to prostitutes, worthless people, misshapen people and forgives them. God is not a punishing God, but a God who asks that children be forgiven.”
A Life of Jesus

“A novelist cannot write about what is holy. He cannot depict the holy Christ, but he can write about Jesus through the eyes of the sort of people who stepped on the fumie, or the eyes of his disciples and others who betrayed the Christ.”


Saying “NO!”

Ignazio Silone, Italian novelist, author of Bread and Wine and Fontamara, died on August 22, 1978. His novels are profound narratives of peasant life in rural Italy.

Silone’s novel Bread and Wine was a favorite of Dorothy Day. Part of it is also quoted in A. J. Muste’s On Holy Disobedience.

Bread and Wine is set in pre-World War II Italy, under Mussolini, around the time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). A communist disguised as a priest goes in hiding to a poor village in the Abruzzi region of Italy. One night anti-war and anti-Fascist slogans are painted around town. Subsequently a young woman, Blanchina, speaks with Don Paulo.

Bianchina tells Don Paolo she can’t understand why there was such a lot of fuss about a few inscriptions on the wall. Don Paolo is surprised, too. He tries to explain it.

“The Land of Propaganda is built on unanimity,” he said. “If one man says, ‘No,’ the spell is broken and public order is endangered. The rebel voice must be stifled.”

“Even if the voice is that of a poor, solitary sick man?”

“Even then.”

“Even if it belongs to a peaceful man who thinks in his own way, but does nothing evil apart from that?”

“Even then.” …

“In the Land of Propaganda,” he said, “a man, any man, any little man who goes on thinking with his own head, imperils public order. Tons of printed paper repeat the government slogans; thousands of loud-speakers, hundreds of thousands of manifestoes and leaflets, legions of orators in the squares and at the crossroads, thousands of priests from the pulpit repeat these slogans ad nauseam, to the point of collective stupefaction.
But it is enough for one little man to say ‘No!’ in his neighbor’s ear, or write ‘No!’ on the wall at night, and public order is endangered.”…

“And if they catch him and kill him?” the girl asked.

“Killing a man who says ‘No!’ is a risky business,” the priest replied, “because even a corpse can go on whispering ‘NO! NO! NO!’ with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of. And how can you silence a corpse?”