Considered one of the late Shusaku Endo's finest works, The Samurai seamlessly combines historical fact with a novelist's imaginings. Set in the period preceding the Christian persecutions in Japan recorded so memorably in Endo's Silence, this book traces the steps of some of the first Japanese to set foot on European soil. The Samurai, without doubt one of the late Shusaku Endo's finest works, seamlessly combines historical fact with novelist's imaginings. Set in the period preceding the Christian persecutions in Japan, The Samurai traces the steps of some of the first Japanese to set foot on European soil. Rokuemon Hasekura, a low-ranking warrior, is chosen as one of Japan's envoys to the Viceroy of Mexico and Pope Paul V. The emissaries set sail in 1613, accompanied by an ambitious Franciscan missionary who hopes to bargain trading privileges with the West for the right to head his order in Japan. The arduous journey lasts four years, and the Japanese travel from Mexico to Rome, where they are persuaded that the success of their mission depends on their conversion willy-nilly to Christianity. In fact, the enterprise has been futile from the start and the mission returns to Japan where the political tides have shifted: the authorities are pursuing an isolationist policy and a ruthless stamping out of all Western influences. In the face of disillusionment and death, samurai Rokuemon's only support and solace come from the spiritual lord he is not even sure he believes in.
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Customer Rating: Summary: meaningful historical fiction Comment: Based on historical fact, Shusaku Endo's The Samurai tells the story of a zealous Franciscan priest named Velasco (based on a priest named Luis Sotelo) and a rural samurai named Hasekura Rokuemon whose paths cross when Velasco leads a mission to Spain and then Rome with an entourage of Japanese envoys and their men, ostensibly in order to develop trade between Spain and Japan and to gain proselytizing privileges under the authority of Velasco, who seeks to become Bishop of Japan. During the protracted journey, most of the Japanese--all of them of lower rank than would normally be the case for international envoys--agree to convert to Christianity, although their motives are more selfish than profound. Since the events on which the novel is based took place during a period of increasing oppression and persecution of Christians in Japan, the mission is doomed to failure, and both protagonists end up dying for their faith, although Endô leaves vague the depth of Rokuemon's religious commitment. The descriptions of the mission's travels are well researched and hypnotic, the prose is often lyrical, the religious disquisitions are engrossing (even for nonbelievers, like me), the bitter sectarian rivalry between the Jesuits and Franciscans is vividly portrayed, and the world of early seventeenth-century Japanese politics and its evolving attitude toward Christianity is superbly interpreted. Also noteworthy is the depiction of Velasco's complex character as a man of faith struggling with his own worldly ambitions and sensual desires, and that of the humble samurai who is uprooted from his barren homeland and family to travel all the way to Rome while increasingly pondering the significance of the emaciated, ugly figure hanging from crucifixes he sees everywhere in Europe respected as a symbol of man's salvation. The translator, Van C. Gessel, provides a brief introduction and a very useful postscript in which he discusses the novel's relation to historical fact. This novel can be appreciated as both a terrific historical novel about an important subject not well known in the West and as an exploration of the suffering and elation experienced by men in the search for spiritual meaning in Christian faith. Endo's approach to Christian theology is considered highly individualistic, which will be clear even if you don't know much about the subject. Believers and nonbelievers alike will find this novel compelling. Customer Rating: Summary: A small masterpiece Comment: At first sight, a book about Japan, Mexic, Spain and Italy, a book about religion in Japan and religion in medieval Europe. However, it is actually a book about people, but in its story religion plays an important role.
It is a book written by a (Christian) Japanese, in which Japan is not regarded as the end of them all, instead it contrasts - many times negatively - to other parts of the world. In these pages you can find people for which adopting a religion is just a means for better business, where earthly life is everything that matters. And yet, there are also people who found happiness, and act divine while still in a human body.
There is a Spanish priest who is very proud and acts selfish while pretending - even to himself - to be following the orders of God, and there is the samurai - the title character - who has nothing to do with Christianity, and yet has probably lived by it his whole life. They both come to a better understanding of life just when theirs ends.
After reading The Samurai I couldn't help to compare it with Clavell's Shogun: this one is written by a Japanese trying to see the good parts in other countries, Shogun is written by a Westerner who found in medieval Japan a much superior civilization. Read them both! They are masterpieces!
Customer Rating: Summary: Very Good! Comment: Okay first of all, don't let the title mislead you. One of the two main characters is a samurai but don't expect sword fights and bloody battles in this book. With that said I very much enjoyed this book and thought the author does an amazing job with making all the scenes come alive simply by his descriptions of the settings. I would certainly recommend this book to a friend and even though this is an religious novel, I don't believe you have to be a religious person to get something out of this book. Customer Rating: Summary: An spiritual trip Comment: The samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga Rokuemon has been assigned a mission: to establish commercial ties with the Spanish government and to bring back "padres" to the region of Sendai. With that purpose he crosses the Pacific, Mexico, and the Atlantic in a trip towards Madrid, Barcelona and Roma full of sacrifices and spiritual challenges. This is the account of a historical mission that failed from the start. The exposure of the samurai to Christianity marks in him a path that will accompany until his last days once back in Japan. Although most of the tale reflects the historical facts, some parts of Shusaku's novel were of his own making. It is a book of adventure but as many reviewers I was drawn by the religious inside which looks for a purpose of existence in each of its characters. I missed a more in depth intrusion into the Spanish culture of that time. Cities like Madird, Toledo, and Seville... were at that time filled with strong cultural, political and economical changes. It was close to the time when Cervantes wrote his Don Quijote de la Mancha and I'm sure the "real" emissaries where also swapped into those events: the homeless in the streets, people that abandoned the villages to find better chances in the cities... Customer Rating: Summary: The Simple and the Grandiose Comment: I have read a number of other books by Shusaku Endo and I have come to appreciate his unique (to me) Christian theology. He made a very powerful statement in "Silence" and another one in "Deep River". Endo doesn't trumpet his points but they are clear nonetheless. He is even more subtle in "The Samurai". It doesn't take long for us to pick out a most unusual "bad guy". Father Velasco, despite his continuous efforts to overcome his sinfulness, depicts everything that is wrong with modern Christianity. I use the term "modern Christianity" to refer to when the Church became more important than the Word. As a counterpart, we have Rokuemon Hasekura, the title character. He has no need whatsoever for Chritianity but it is through his eyes that we are able to glimpse the true nature of Christian faith. The subtlety of "The Samurai" lies in how the majesty of Velasco's Christianity overshadows the simple understanding of Christianity that Hasekura uncovers. At times I thought Endo had so lopsided the comparisons as to lose the meaning of it all. Only later did I realize the beautiful way that simplicity won out by its' own nature. I suppose it is possible to enjoy "The Samurai" without being touched by this comparitve examination of Christianity. This is an excellent work of historical fiction that focuses on Japan, the New World, Spain and Rome in the early 1600's. However, for me the book challenged me to examine my own expression of faith, both outwardly and inwardly, and see if I was Velasco or the Samurai. I'm still in the process of that examination.