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Silence / Shūsaku Endō

Young Portuguese Jesuit, Sebastião Rodrigues (based on the historical figure Giuseppe Chiara) is sent to Japan to succor the local Church and investigate reports that his mentor, a Jesuit priest in Japan named Ferreira, based on Cristóvão Ferreira, has committed apostasy. Half of the book is the written journal of Rodrigues, while the other half of the book is written either in the third person, or in the letters of others associated with the narrative. The novel relates the trials of Christians and the increasing hardship suffered by Rodrigues.

Before the Dawn / SHIMAZAKI Toson

Regarded in Japan (where it first appeared in serial form in the 1930s) as the historical novel of the period it portrays, this monumental work tells the turbulent story of the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, an event precipitated by the arrival of Commodore Perry’s Black Ships, and the early years of the Meiji Restoration. The focus is on a mountain village lying across the highway between Tokyo and Kyoto, which was used by the Tokugawa regime as a posting station, and in particular on its headman Hanzo, closely modeled on the author’s father, a rural intellectual who suffers the tragic consequences of being a man ahead of his time. Shimazaki shows that the Tokugawa shogunate, for all its repressiveness, had much to commend it; that the restoration, for all its successes, created a great deal of frustration and disillusion; and that, contrary to common belief, Japan’s transition from feudalism to the modern age was not a leap but a slow and painful process. The author’s supreme achievement is to dramatize wrenching social and political change at the level of individual response. This viable link between event and character, coupled with Toson’s limpid, low-key style, is what makes his story so readable despite the massive historical research that infuses it.

Shiokari Pass / Ayako Miura

Based on a true story, Shiokari Pass is a moving tale of love eclipsed by sacrifice and tragedy. The hero of this novel is the young and idealistic Nobuo Nagano, who finds himself forced to make a heart-rending decision, when he must choose between his childhood sweetheart, Fujiko, and his newly found Christian faith. Set in Hokkaido at the turn of the nineteenth century, when for the first time Western culture and ideas were beginning to challenge Japan’s long-held traditions, Shiokari Pass takes an intriguing look at Japanese life and thought of a hundred years ago. Filled with drama and featuring a spectacular climax amidst the snows of Hokkaido, the book was a bestseller in Japanese and a successful motion picture as well. Based on the life of a high-ranking railway employee who was revered for his humanitarian deeds, Shiokari Pass offers a revealing glimpse of the long, hard road traveled by Japanese Christians.

The Flower Mat / Shūgorō Yamamoto

Set in eighteenth-century Japan, The Flower Mat unravels the story of a young bride born into a traditional family, groomed in the virtues of ideal womanhood, and finally tempered in tragedy brought about by political intrigue. Readers everywhere will find this a solid account of personal development and responsibility in the life of one Japanese woman.

The Bamboo Sword and Other Samurai Tales / FUJISAWA Shuhei

The eight stories that comprise this collection were all written in the 1970s and 80s, yet vividly evoke early 17th-century Japan, when peace finally reigned after centuries of warfare. It was a period of upheaval and change as the rulers carved out their territories and clan politics were full of intrigue, rivalry and betrayals. The samurai were still valued for their swordsmanship, and were a cut above the peasants, artisans, and merchants in the social hierarchy. Without battles to fight, however, they struggled to retain their sense of pride and meaning in life as they devoted themselves to mundane jobs, marriage and family. The occasional flash of the sword and samurai discipline were tempered by the unexpected intrusion of human interaction. Sympathies, conspiracies, kindnesses, enmities-all kinds of odd relationships were formed and conflicts resolved in surprising ways. These tales are colorful, atmospheric, exciting, tender, violent and gently ironic.

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