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Kiku's Prayer

Kiku's Prayer first appeared as a newspaper serial in the Asahi Shimbun between November 1980 and July 1981. An English translation was published in 2012, and the second novel, Sachiko, will be released in English in August of this year (2020). Both are set mainly in Nagasaki, the first in the years toward the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and early Meiji era (around 1868) and the latter during the years leading up to the atomic bombing of the city. Often called Japan's Graham Greene, Shusaku Endo was a Catholic too and, like Greene, had paradoxical views on religious matters, which he addressed in his writing. With a different perspective on some of the same themes he examined in his novel Silence (1966), Kiku's Prayer and Sachiko are also historical novels about the persecution of Japan's Christians.

Kiku's Prayer is a tragic love story as well, with gut-wrenching descriptions of torture and self-sacrifice that Endo seems to protract almost sadistically in places. Another interesting aspect of the novel is its portrayals of early foreign residents (Chinese, Dutch, French) in Nagasaki, including Fr. Bernard-Thadée Petitjean and Western diplomats who put pressure on the Tokugawa and Meiji governments to end its centuries-old persecution of Kirishitan Japanese. The narrative arc, from childhood to old age, is well designed, with some characters slipping in and out of lead roles over the span of the story. The persecutor Ito Seizaemon is an especially compelling, one-of-a-kind character, superbly despicable and pitiful. Overall, Kiku's Prayer is a good book, and I look forward to reading Sachiko.


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