A ‘What Say Ye?’ bonus: Discussing ‘Silence’ with BYU professor Van Gessel
A renowned scholar of Japanese literature, Van Gessel is the primary English translator for the work of Japanese author Shusaku Endo, having translated seven Endo novels so far, with his eighth on the way. Gessel served as a literary consultant on Martin Scorsese’s recent adaptation of “Silence.”
Gessel’s interest in Endo’s work goes back to his own first encounter with “Silence” in the early 1970s.
“From 1970 to 1972, I was a Mormon missionary in Japan,” Gessel said. “And when I came back, I thought, ‘You know, I should really take a look at some Japanese literature,’ and one of the first things I picked up was the English translation of ‘Silence,’ which had been published just before I went on my mission. … Picked it up, and found in those pages a Western Christian missionary who’s going to Japan and struggling to convey his message, and I thought, ‘Whoa, this is me.’ And so I felt this great affinity.”
“Silence” tells a story of 17th-century Catholic missionaries in Japan, and dramatizes their choice to agree or not to step on images of Christ — a choice between physical torture or apostasy.
Endo’s perspective as a Japanese Christian is evident throughout his literary work, which often touches on the complex relationship between Christianity and Japanese culture.
“Here I find a writer who is Christian, who is writing about these same kind of themes that I had struggled with, with very limited understanding, during my two years there,” Gessel said. “And so that’s when I first became interested in his writing, and wanted to actually continue to study the language and begin reading the literature in the original Japanese, so I could understand what he was saying.”
Derrick Clements and Court Mann