Reader's Reviews

Silence by Shūsaku Endō, Trans. William Johnston

Silence book cover

Alex Kato

At the turn of the 17th century, while attempting to unite Japan by conquest, the Tokugawa shogunate tried to crush the Christianity that united the southern daimyōs (feudal lords) against them. Here, the blood of the martyrs was apparently not the seed of the Church. The feudal government virtually eradicated Christianity and sealed off Japan from Western influence for 250 years. Today, many consider Japan the largest unreached people group in the world, 125 million people with less than 0.5% Christian. Shūsaku Endō‘s Silence opens a chilling window into that defining period of persecution. As a Japanese American, the book both complicated my vague pride in Japanese orderliness and efficiency, and fanned my desire to somehow serve this nation still in desperate need of the Gospel.

In Silence, Sebastian Rodriguez, a Portuguese Jesuit priest, sails to Japan in the midst of this withering persecution. He sneaks from town to town, offering sacraments to secret Christians, all while looking for his mentor, who is rumored to have renounced the faith. Father Rodriguez arrives prepared to fight off fear, but as he watches the Christian peasants suffer, he finds his true adversary is doubt. Amid this slaughter, why does God seem silent?

Silence disturbed me. The torture is cold and creative. Yet, it is historical, and it’s something Christians should grapple with, personally and theologically. I recommend reading the book before seeing Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film adaptation, not only to bring Rodriguez’s internal dialogue into the visual experience but also to know how upsetting the images will be (and decide whether to watch the poignant but graphic film after all).

Endo leaves readers with complicated questions. Why does God seem silent? What does it mean to obey God? What would I do in the same situations? Personally, I needed people to ask these questions with, and it was helpful to read and watch Silence with others from my Stone Hill small group. Look for an opportunity to read this book with others, because I am sure it will unsettle you, as it should.

Learn more about the book:

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon, Disney-Hyperion, 2016

The Bone Sparrow

Emily Lo Gibson

With the massive refugee crisis across the globe, it's hard to turn on the radio and not hear about the millions of people fleeing war, poverty and persecution. Certain places and people are familiar to our ears: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan…

But what about those who often don’t make the news, like the Rohingya of Burma? Zana Fraillon does an admirable job of putting this little-known Muslim people group on the map with her new novel, The Bone Sparrow. While it’s written for a younger audience (middle grade), we all could benefit from reading it. We learn through the innocent eyes of ten-year-old Subhi, or DAR-1: the first child born in the detention camp where he and his family await decision on their immigration status.

The story of Subhi, his sister Queeny, and his mother Maá unwraps slowly. But soon, we find ourselves in the dusty detention camp, feeling the relentless beat of the sun, avoiding the threatening gaze of the Jackets (security guards). Subhi invites us to experience his imagined Night Sea, to muse on his hopes and dreams, to grapple with the confines of his “limbo life.” He is no longer a faceless refugee. We also meet our second narrator, the spunky, cheeky Jimmie who sneaks to the camp from the “Outside.” She’s technically “free,” but is also imprisoned by her own grief and precarious state. We learn how unseen she has been as well.

This friendship, crossing cultures and status, is most endearing and fun to read. (Look for the Shakespeare Duck and dreamy food sessions!) Yet it doesn’t shy away from the stark realities of camp life. There were several times when I found my heart racing and full of sorrow, even as I found moments to laugh and smile.

The Bone Sparrow is a creative way for us at Stone Hill to think about being dedicated followers of Christ who “Impact Our World” by bridging that gap between the refugee and us. Just as Subhi and Jimmie found common ground, we, too, can welcome the stranger, the “other” into our lives. After reading the book, consider contacting the Missions Team in order to learn more about refugees in our area, or learning about and praying for a people group in “limbo.”

Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Crown Publishers 2016

Evicted

Tracy Troxel

For most of my life homelessness was either a statistic or the occasional stranger holding a sign asking for money in one of my visits to a larger city. Matthew Desmond, the author, provides a real service to us by humanizing the homeless.  After spending 18 months in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Desmond chronicles the real-life stories of those who experience eviction and the threat of eviction on a regular basis.  The stories are tragic, raw and heartbreaking.  

Desmond deftly describes the structure of poverty.   The subtitle of the book is ‘Poverty And Profit In The American City’.  The structure of poverty in America enables many entities to be financially enriched on the backs of the poor.

I met the author back in May and told him that it was the best/worst book I had ever read.  I couldn’t put it down but it made me angry that I was so ignorant and that there is a system in place that truly harms the poor.

Read this book and then work to channel your anger in a positive way.  This book has helped shape some of our work in Princeton with the economically disadvantaged.  We do have a ‘homeless shelter’ in Princeton that provides transitional housing for the homeless (Housing Initiative of Princeton).

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