An adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel “Silence” — about Jesuit priests and Christian converts suffering repression in 17th-century Japan — is currently being filmed by Martin Scorsese in Taiwan and scheduled for release next year.
It’s perhaps surprising that first out of the traps in the inevitable race to produce film-related merchandising is this hefty volume of 15 scholarly essays on “Silence.” It includes the entire script of a stage play based on the novel and an afterword by Scorsese himself.
“Approaching Silence” reveals the background to the real-life priests, ancient and modern, who fired Endo’s imagination, and includes anecdotes, such as the author’s sole encounter with his literary hero (and mutual admirer) Graham Greene in the lift of The Ritz Hotel in London.
The large number of scholastic analyses offer an impressive array of contradictory opinions.
The climactic scene in “Silence” — where the protagonist priest begins to abandon his beliefs — is explained in many ways. Does he act because he hears the true voice of an all-forgiving Christ (Endo’s intended meaning), because he suffers from auditory hallucinations (a humanist analysis), or, most bizarrely, because he has been coaxed by “The Great Tempter?”
Sadly the strength of this volume is also its great weakness: the 15 academic essays tiresomely repeat the same background information, meaning the book is perhaps many times longer than its content justifies.