Tuesday, April 23, 2013

[Book Review] Kiku's Prayer

Title: Kiku's Prayer
Author: Shusaku Endo, Van C. Gessel (Translator)
Date Published: December 18, 2012
Genre: Historical, Japanese Literature
Source: ARC
Rating: ★★★★


About the Book:
Endo Shusaku was a renowned twentieth-century Japanese author who wrote from the unusual perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic. His work is often compared to that of Graham Greene, who himself considered Endo one of the century's finest writers. A historical novel set in the turbulent period between the fall of the shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, "Kiku's Prayer" embodies themes central to Endo's work, including religion, modernization, and the endurance of the human spirit. In Japan, the book is considered one of his late masterpieces and has never before been translated into English. 
Endo's novel is told through the eyes of Kiku, self-assured young woman from a rural village who falls in love with Seikichi, a devoted Catholic man. Practicing a faith still banned by the government, Seikichi is imprisoned and forced to recant under torture. Kiku's efforts to reconcile her feelings for Seikichi and the sacrifices she makes to free him mirror the painful, conflicting choices Japan faced as a result of exposure to modernity and the West. Endo's nuanced view of history is very much on display in this novel: Seikichi's persecution exemplifies Japan's insecurities toward the West, and Kiku's tortured yet determined spirit represents the nation's resilient soul. Yet "Kiku's Prayer" is much more than a historical allegory. It acutely renders one woman's troubled encounter with passion and spirituality at a transitional time in her life and in the life of her people.

A beautifully faithful and rich depiction of 19th century Japan at a time when Christianity is rewarded with persecution.

This book is very well-written and detailed, using picturesque words to describe the simple beauty of living during Kiku’s time. There is even comparison of the places during Kiku’s time with how they turned out to be in modern times. At the on-set, the narration feels as if the narrator is recalling memories from his distant past, but pretty soon, everything modern vanishes and a picture of 19th century Japan is depicted.

To be honest, the beginning was slow and dragging. I wanted something to happen to the characters soon - anything! But then again, I guess that's part of the beauty in this book. It teaches patience

Kiku's Prayer follows the life of Kiku, an ordinary girl who lived an extraordinary life at a time when Japan is still struggling to open up to the world. She's naive and stubborn but she is pure-hearted and she loves deeply.

Her life takes a turn for something bad when she falls in love with Sekichi, a Christian, or in the book, a 'kirishitan'. To note, Japanese Christians were persecuted in 19th century Japan, so Sekichi's religion presented a huge danger to his life and brought fears for Kiku.

Aside from following the life of Kiku, this book also tells about the struggles of the Christian priest, Petitjean, who kept his faith and believed that there are still existing Japanese Christians.

Personally, I'm a Christian myself and thus, Sekichi's story of persecution is nothing new to me. Presently, there are two Filipino saints, one of whom is Saint Lorenzo Ruiz who received harsh torture due to his struggle to spread Christianity. Still though, it was really interesting to read a historically accurate novel about the struggle of Christianity in Japan.

By the end of this book, although the ending could be considered tragic, I feel as if I gained a new perspective because of Kiku. Yes, her life was wasted away but she did live a life of love for Sekichi. And Japan eventually opened up to Christianity. Even if her life was tragic, there was hope. And I think, that was the main goal of this story - to bring hope.

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