Shūsaku Endō (March 27, 1923-September 29, 1996) was a Japanese author who wrote from the rare perspective of a Japanese Roman Catholic and was noted for his examination of the relationship between East and West through a Christian perspective.
Endo’s greatest work, Silence, portrays the courage of Japanese Christians in the seventeenth century and graphically describes the torture and persecution they were made to endure. In Japan, where Christianity is the faith of but a small minority, Endo’s novels introduced Christianity to the general public.
Endō’s works of fiction includes Kazan (1959; Volcano), Kuchibue o fuku toki (1974; When I Whistle), Sukyandaru (1986; Scandal), and a number of comic novels. He also wrote short stories, drama, essays, and a biography.
Endō became a Roman Catholic at age 11 with the encouragement of his mother and an aunt. At Keio University he majored in French literature(B.A., 1949), a subject he studied from 1950 to 1953 at the University of Lyon in France. His first collections of fiction, Shiroi hito and Kiiroi hito (both 1955; “White Man” and “Yellow Man”), indicate the direction of most of his later fiction: they contrast Japanese and Western experience and perspectives. In Umi to dokuyaku (1957; The Sea and Poison), he examines the Japanese sense of morality in a war story about Japanese doctors performing a vivisection on a downed American pilot. Chimmoku (1966; Silence), and Samurai (1980; The Samurai)—a fascinating account of a samurai’s journey on behalf of his shogun to open trade with Mexico, Spain, and Rome—are considered his best writing, showing the complexities of the interactions between cultures as well as presenting a supple and well-told narrative.
Throughout his life bouts of disease plagued him, and he spent two years in hospital at one point. In 1952, while studying in France, he came down with pleurisy in Paris. A return visit in 1960 prompted another case of the same disease, and he stayed in hospital (in France and Japan) for the greater part of three years. It is possible that he may have contracted tuberculosis, underwent thoracoplasty, and had a lung removed.
His books reflect many of his childhood experiences, including the stigma of being an outsider, the experience of being a foreigner, the life of a hospital patient, and his struggle with tuberculosis. However, his books mainly deal with the moral fabric of life. Most of his characters struggle with complex moral dilemmas, and their choices often produce mixed or tragic results. His work is often compared to that of Graham Greene, who personally labeled Endo one of the finest writers of the twentieth century. Endo received nearly every major literary prize in Japan, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for literature.