Quick announcement! Now you can purchase all four of the novels in my historical romance series, A More Perfect Union, in one box set. See below for details!
Now, on to today’s historical fiction commentary. I finished reading The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. In case you missed them, you can read my initial thoughts on the story here. This book was interesting in several different ways. First, of course, the storytelling was strong and engaging. The narration is mostly in third person when in the point of view of the samurai character, and in first person when in the priest’s point of view. This technique helps the reader to discern who is speaking and whose worldview to expect as these two characters have vastly different experience and motives.
Last time, I mentioned the symbolism of snow and how it seemed to apply to the story. I said, “Snow symbolizes a fresh start, rebirth, change, purity, innocence. It can be a sign of good luck, as well. Each of these meanings could be applied to The Samurai.” While that remains true, it also becomes a rather ironic mirror to the story as it progresses.
Second, the story highlights some aspects of life and living in the past that I hadn’t considered. One of the interesting things about this story is the cultural background Endo provides glimpses of in the 17th century. Not just in Japan but also in Mexico and other places the story travels to and through. Imagine if you will being required to seek permission to enter a city, forced to wait in an inn until the ruler of the city responds to the request, a length of time which could be days or weeks. Or being required to sit in a specific way when in a formal situation, in this case cross-legged with your hands on your knees, perhaps with your forehead to the floor. (I’m not sure I could flex that far!) As a citizen of the USA, both of these requirements seem difficult if not impossible to enforce today. Think of the level of power/control the ruler of each city had back then as to whether a person would be permitted to enter his domain of a city. I guess that’s why they walled them in and had defensive postures. Nowadays, we whiz right on through on the interstate or other roadway without asking anyone’s permission.
I think it’s one of the benefits of historical fiction stories, this being able to compare then and now to have a better grasp of how societies have evolved over the centuries. To note the situations we have no desire to return to. It’s why it is so important to know history so we can forestall regressing back into untenable and ultimately dangerous times. Indeed, The Samurai can be viewed as a cautionary tale insofar as how the samurai’s trusting acceptance is challenged and ultimately not rewarded in the way he thought it would be.
Last, I’ve been musing on what the message of Endo’s story might be and haven’t really settled on one moral. I think what you take away from the story will depend on your own personal world view, your experiences and expectations, and your depth and breadth of faith. What I take away is that blind trust is a weakness and easily exploited by others.
Overall, I’d say this was a good read and worth reading. Endo allowed me to see inside the culture, the logic and expectations of the Japanese as they live their lives. While I understand that this same set of cultural expectations has most probably evolved, I wonder how much of it lingers behind the traditions of the Japanese people. A pondering without an answer, I’m sure. But if anyone would like to venture a guess, I’d be willing to listen.
For next time, I’m going to read one by the Italian author Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery. I’m up to the I’s in the alphabet, working backward toward the beginning in my Historical Fiction Around the World series.
Off to the library I go to pick it up. Happy Reading!
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Now available! A More Perfect Union – The Complete Box Set!
In 1782, the fight for independence becomes personal…
“Well-researched” with “spirited dialogue and…pleasingly complex emotional insights” combined with “sparkles of humor and the richly textured secondary characters” – Historical Novel Society
Emily’s Vow: When essayist Emily Sullivan faces dangers from all sides including her father’s demand she marry a suspected traitor to the American cause, she vows to fight her own war for independence.
Amy’s Choice: Storyteller Amy Abernathy can’t forgive nor forget her handsome spy, Major Benjamin Hanson, for leaving without a word of goodbye to fight in the American War for Independence until he risks life and limb to save her from desperate and deadly renegade soldiers.
Samantha’s Secret: Samantha McAlester, midwife and healer, tries to keep her past secret but is forced to work with the progressive young Dr. Trent to save their friend’s life without either of them losing their minds or their hearts.
Evelyn’s Promise: Militiaman Nathaniel Williams longs to flee to the frontier of the new country of America until he falls in love with the beautiful widow Evelyn Hamilton who is set on rebuilding her home in Charleston; to stay together one of them must give up their dream, but which one?