After the release of the major motion picture (and a little nudge from a friend), I picked this book up for what was to be a begrudging read. What first was sour turned into amazement.
The premise of the book is simple: in the 17th century, two Jesuit Priests go on a mission to Japan to discover what has happened to a Priest who has since lost contact with the church. What is more difficult is the situation when the two priests get to Japan. They are informed that the Japanese officials have a hatred for Christianity. They are corralled and forced to hide in order that the authorities are not alerted to their presence. They hear stories of the horrors the other Christians are having to live through. When they are discovered, they are introduced to suffering on a level not bearable for themselves or the priests. An official named Inoue (in-o-ay) is the chief magistrate that is to crack down on Christian missionaries. He, however, does not want to kill them, but to apostatize them. This involves the stepping on a “fumi” or a graphic representation of Christ. He makes clear that he does not mean for them to renounce their Christianity; for all he cares, they could step on the fumi and continue on living in belief (as long as they are not openly sharing this belief with others). It is simply the act that must be carried out for him to let them go.
Without giving too much away, this is the problem that the priests run into. A fellow that has a reoccurring role as a village person with over-drinking tendencies is Kichijiro. He continually gets caught in his Christianity and yet steps on the fumi whenever he is asked. He begs for forgiveness from the priests but he goes right back to the lifestyle he is in.
So there are many dimensions to this book; too many to address all of them here. But, as one person I talked to about this said, this is not a situation I would want to be in. This book made me think hard about my faith. Not in a way where I was questioning if it was all real, but rather in a thoughtful way; if I were to be in their shoes, what would I do? That is a very, very difficult question. I would highly recommend this book to both the spiritually confused and the spiritual. What lies inside will challenge you no matter where on the spectrum you lay.