We hope you enjoy this BookNotes review, and we hope you will considering ordering Silence and Beauty from us at our discounted price. The link to the Hearts & Minds bookstore order form shown below will take you to our secure order form page at our website. We will confirm personally and ship promptly. Thank you very much.
Please see below for our special sale pricing on a pairing of Mako Fujimura’s SIlence and Beauty and Shusaku Endo’s Silence. We will offer 10% off for either one bought individually but will offer 20% off if both are purchased together.
Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering Makoto Fujimura (InterVarsity Press) regularly $26.00.
Thirty five years ago when we were dreaming up the idea of our bookstore we were faced with the question of what sort of novels we would carry. Inspirational fiction published by evangelical publishers where on the rise and they were often pretty schmaltzy. As we explained our vision of stocking books offering a wise and thoughtful Christian perspective in different career areas and academic disciplines – engineering, nursing, urban studies, sports, biology, politics, business, and the like – and resources for those working on the burning social issues of our time (racial justice, environmental stewardship, being consistently pro-life, fighting slavery and human trafficking and on and on) we had to ask ourselves: what do we do about the popularity of so-called Christian harlequins? In the days when inspiration fiction was pretty uniformly of poor quality, we wondered, what, really, is Christian fiction.
We had read Calvin Seerveld’s lively 1970s-era A Christian Critique of Art and Literature, Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, C.S. Lewis’s On Stories, and the stimulating work of Leland Ryken and the young Luci Shaw.
And the answer was obvious: even though they may not sell well in church circles, we will stock best-selling general market books that have something artful about them and something to say — we championed the work of Barbara Kingsolver from almost the beginning, for instance, and last year we were early fans of All The Light We Cannot See. And certainly we wanted to promote those writers who are people of faith but not in the evangelical sub-culture – from Walker Percy to Graham Greene to John Updike to Dorothy Sayers, Katherine Paterson to Susan Howatch, from books like Kristin Lavransdatter to The Memory of Old Jack to Buechner’s Book of Bebb. The very first book we sold the very day we opened was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
It was in that stimulating era for Beth and me when we were learning so much about literature and book-selling – she loved Things Fall Apart having read Achebe in college although I still hadn’t even read To Kill a Mockingbird – that we discovered what is certainly one of the great novels of the 20th century, the highly regarded, provocative, Silence by the Japanese Christian author Shusaku Endo. We had it on our shelves, I think, the day we opened, and have recommended it often to those who want a bracing, passionate, beautifully-rendered, historically-rich, religious story.
Richly multi-layered and complex, it is simple to summarize: it is about the persecution of Christians in late 17th century Japan, a brutally awful period of martyrdom in the enigmatic land of the brutal Shoguns and powerful emperors. It is not, I sometimes say, for the faint of heart. Shusaku Endo was awarded many prizes and is to this day Japan’s most celebrated writer; he was on the short list for the Nobel Prize in literature. In a way, his Silence is a perfect example of the sorts of novels we think our customers should care about.
Alongside our interest in fiction is our interest in books about a faith-based perspective on aesthetics and the arts. We are truly thrilled when we get to sell books at CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) gatherings or other such event which nurture a Christian witness among artists and within the art scene.
This is not the place to list titles for you of our large selection of books that attempt to relate faith and art, but I need to say that one of the best voices – an author, speaker and abstract painter of considerable renown – in the last decades is Mr. Makoto Fujimura, founder of IAM (the International Arts Movement/Culture Care) and author of several vital books in this field. His first published piece was a chapter in the altogether fabulous It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God published by Square Halo Books. His writing is eloquent and thoughtful, from his lovely (and beautifully designed) Refractions to the remarkable Square Halo Book release called Soliloquies showing how his work compares and contrasts with rare Georges Rouault pieces. Mako, as he is endearingly called by his friends, contributed to a lavish art book we are honored to stock called Qua4tets, a collaboration with another painter, a writer, and a musician, reflecting on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. And he has a very moving chapter in a coffee table book about Japanese print-maker Sadao Wantanabe called Beauty Given By Grace.
In 2011 his illuminated gospels The Four Holy Gospels (ESV) were released to much acclaim, the first time that a Bible was hand illustrated with modern art. We stock the hardback version of this, too. (Watch a gorgeous and interesting 8 minute film about it, here.)
The handsomely crafted 2015 paperback, Culture Care, is Mako’s recent manifesto for why Christians and other people of good faith should steward well the generative gifts that help culture flourish; it is impressive and important. I’ve told customers that his Culture Care is a great book to follow up a showing of the spectacular For the Life of the World DVDs or to further explore the insights of Andy Crouch’s wonderful Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.
Mr. Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist who came to Christian faith while studying as a National Scholar in Japan. Some of Mako’s own story — he worked with some very important Japanese artists, studied some of the best thinkers of the East, was met by thoughtful Christian people there — is told nicely in his stunning, significant new book, richly designed (with a beautiful translucent dust jacket) by the book artisans at IVP, called Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering.
Mr. Fujimura’s telling of his conversion to Christianity is interwoven with his journey to his parent’s ancestral homeland to formally study (the first non-native to do so) a very old Japanese style of art-making called nihonga. You can read for yourself how art and beauty, Asian worldviews and Western, gospel grace and good people conspired to draw Mako into the Kingdom of Christ, but, as is no surprise, those who took his questions and seeking heart seriously also affirmed his great talent and dedication to becoming a serious nihonga artist. Curiously, he didn’t use this complex style (which includes grinding precious metals into the paste-like paint – pulverization he calls it) in the traditional Japanese way, but, rather applied the intricate method to Western abstract impressionism.
After his study in Japan and conversion to Christian faith, Mako, who had studied in Pennsylvania at Bucknell University (from where, interestingly, his friend Tim Keller also graduated), practiced his craft, created increasingly popular and respected nihonga paintings, becoming known within the serious art scene in Manhattan. He was encouraged by patrons and reviewers and critics. I met him in those years under a small tent as he gave a powerful talk about faith and the arts at an edgy Christian rock festival in Lancaster; now he lectures before large, prominent crowds, has earned an honorary doctorate, and leads conversations about his work at some of the finest galleries in North America, Europe and Asia.
And — get this — recently Mako has served as a conversation partner and consultant for Martin Scorsese as the world-renowned film-maker was shooting his forthcoming movie based on Endo’s classic novel. Mako tells us that Scorsese has thought about making this film for over 30 years and intends it to be one of his “life works.”
As Mr. Fujimura explains in the brand new Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, he traveled back to Nagasaki (the location of the novel) and to a place called Martyrs Hill; his discoveries and reflections there were soul-shaking. As a traumatized survivor of Ground Zero on 9-11, Mako often writes about the power of art to confront injustice and to help us heal from social dislocation, hurt, grief. (Indeed, after 9-11 he helped create a public art space in lower Manhattan for just this purpose which he describes movingly in his first book, Refractions.) Civilians in Japan have been the targeted victims of two atomic bomb attacks (the steeple of the largest church in Japan was the targeted Ground Zero for the second nuclear attack, a few days after Hiroshima) so it may be that they have much to teach us about grief and loss and resilience. Can beauty and goodness overcome such evil? Does the pulverization of rich minerals into refracting color perhaps speak to those who have themselves felt crushed?
I will not try to explain the many strains of thinking in this extraordinary book, but can assure you that it deeply explores several profound issues, topics and themes. Theodicy, as it is abstractly called, is certainly central. As Mako notes that reading Silence was “an excruciating experience.” He says that Endo produces “art of perseverance” and is a “novelist of pain.”
I deal with uneasy questions in this book. Not all of them will be answered satisfactorily, but they do open up a larger set of questions about faith, betrayal, and the question of evil and suffering, which theologians call “theodicy.”
In thinking about Mr. Endo’s own physical pain and medical issues and his hospitalization while a student in France – alongside his existential and spiritual struggles – Fujimura compares him to Flannery O’Connor (who was pained with lupus.) Mako makes this fascinating evaluation:
As I pondered Endo’s writings, it became clear to me over and over where Endo found his language: in the precision of the diagnostic terms of medicine and in the vulnerability of the experience of trauma. Endo must have experience the clear, concise communication of medical terms that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers, and he experienced trauma as a universal language that can connect cultures. Vulnerability and awareness of physical limitations lead to short, compressed, anguished expression in O’Connor’s memorable, violent short stories, but reading Endo’s work is like being tortured with slow drips of precise poison, but with a certain compassion…
It would be helpful to read Silence (recently re-issued in a colorful new cover, with a new foreword by Mr. Scorsese, most likely to tie in with the film which will come out late this year) as you read Mako’s reflections in Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith… There is a helpful chapter by chapter summary in an appendix in the back of Silence and Beauty.
It is at least good to know that at the heart of the historical reality that Endo is writing about in his compelling novel is the practice of forcing Christians – Portuguese missionaries and their Japanese converts – to stomp on and deface pictures of Christ (or Mary) essentially forcing apostasy and demoralizing their fellow believers. There are many of these fumi-e pictures on display yet today in Japan (also at Nagasaki), their edges worn and dirty from thousands of feet stomping them in acts of betrayal and desperation.
Endo seeing one of these antique fumi-e for the first time — carrying the freight of past torture and repression and religious anguish — moved him deeply and his subsequent writings galvanized him into a leader among the post-war intellectuals in Japan. (When Silence was released in Japan in 1966 it created remarkable controversy and Japan’s minority Christian community was appalled by its graphic depictions; the similarities with the 1980’s culture-war opposition to Mr. Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ is not missed by Fujimura.)
Mako writes, powerfully,
In the worn-smooth face of fumi-e, and the disappearing face of Christ, Endo found resonance. He found perspective on his confounding question. Endo’s writing does not answer the questions about suffering but it expresses empathy for those who cannot speak or write. Endo found his calling was to speak for them. In exploring the denial of faith, and faith that is hidden from the overwhelming pressure of culture, he opened up a path to probe the mystery of existence.
Silence and Beauty is not all about the hiddenness of God, the mysteries of pain, or the struggles with martyrdom and persecution – although, in the age of ISIS and the I Am N movement, this Japanese novel may be just what we need. Philip Yancey says as much in a brilliant, wonderfully lengthy opening foreword. (I have read Yancey’s chapter twice and found it extraordinary both times.)
Neither is Silence and Beauty only a thoughtful engagement of Endo’s Silence but it is more — it shares Mako’s own story of reflecting deeply on how art and beauty can help us (what is the word – cope?) with the world as it is. It about faith and creativity, about literature and art and God’s goodness.
As Gregory Wolfe, editor of the prestigious religious literary journal, Image, writes, “Above all, Fujimura enables us to sense that grace can live – and inspire new life – even in the midst of suffering.”
Or, as Thomas John Hastings, a research fellow of the Kagawa Archives and former theology professor at Tokyo Union Theological Seminary says, “…his layering of Ground Zero themes functions like a Rembrandt primer out of which a sublime beauty and grace emerges.”
Beauty and grace. Indeed.
There is much about Japan and Japanese culture here – including what Mako calls “fumi-e culture” – and much about his own journey with “the ambiguous.” Perhaps you, too, struggle with ambiguity, hiddenness, deep questions and considerable doubt. This book can help. His chapter “The Redemption of Father Rodrigues” moves from The Silence to other great themes and is full of insight. His powerful penultimate chapter is “The Aroma: Towards an Antidote to Trauma.” What a phrase!
There is a centerpiece section inserted on glossy paper in Silence and Beauty nicely showing full color reproductions of several important paintings about which Mako writes. In a nod to “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai (you’ve surely seen it and will recognize it as it is shown) he has a brilliant chapter called “Mission Beyond the Waves.” The final paragraph, summarizing this complex journey towards appreciating the Japanese insights about beauty and silence, and silence and beauty, and silent beauty, is stunning. In those closing pages Mako offers lovely, mature, deeply spiritual hope that can benefit us all.
In case I have suggested to you that this book is too arcane for most readers either intellectually (citing the likes of Kierkegaard and David Bentley Hart and numerous Japanese scholars and historians) or emotionally (with its description of jarring scenes of brutality and the darker themes of God’s hiddenness) I want to invite you to reconsider. Yes, this is an intense book, but it is a beautiful book and a very engaging one. Mako cites J.R.R. Tolkien, which is always nice, and has a big section on Anne of Green Gables. He mentions Jane Eyre and even Star Wars.
Here is a beautifully filmed very short feature about Makoto’s work and his new book. There are moments when I sense that Mako is struggling for words to put to this profound, terrifyingly beautiful project. I hope you watch it — it’s very well done.
From his red barn studio and Institute in Princeton to his recent position at the important Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, informed by his considerable knowledge of modern American artists (Rothko, Pollock) to his first hand experiences in the Japanese art world, from moving words about Japanese saints to courage gathered from Martin Luther King, Jr., this new book will bless you with an extravagant learning experience. It will move you to consider deeply the role of the arts in our lives, and, more, the curiously generative relationship of silence and beauty, of mystery and faith, of pain and hope, of sin and redemption. Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is very nicely made, majestic, grand — a truly remarkable book, a book excellent for our times.
It would be our great pleasure to send both books to you.
Mako Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty AND Shasako Endo’s novel Silence.
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