Next up on my Historical Fiction (Authors) Around the World tour, is The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. Endo is from Japan and this work of fiction is illuminating of a time and place and peoples for me. Set in the 16th century, the story is an international tale. It begins in Japan and journeys to the New World, Mexico in particular. It’s not a long story, comprising only 258 pages in the paperback I’m reading. There is a Postscript by the translator, but I haven’t read it yet. I decided that since it’s positioned after the story then I’ll read it after I read the story itself.
Speaking of translators, this story was translated by Van. C. Gessel. I often wonder about the process of translation, the nuances the translator considers, rejects, accepts. How much of the original flavor of the story remains or has been altered, even finely, as a result of the translator’s work? I assume the resulting story adheres to the intent of the author and meets with his approval, of course. But sometimes a word choice can shift the tone or ambiance of a phrase. So it makes me wonder.
The opening line of the tale has me wondering, also. “It began to snow.” To my mind, this is not an auspicious beginning, one which would grip me into devouring the story. Yet it also does intrigue me. Why did Endo focus on the fact that it started to snow? In the second paragraph (the first consists of only those four words), he expands upon the image: “Until nightfall a faint sunlight had bathed the gravel-covered river bed through breaks in the clouds. When the sky turned dark, an abrupt silence ensued. Two, then three flakes of snow fluttered down from the sky.” This situation has been repeated a few times in the 120+ pages I’ve read, where the snow brings silence. While I haven’t finished reading the story, it seems fitting to have this story begin thus. Especially after I verified the meanings and symbolism of snow. (An aside: I’ve recently been reminded that we are surrounded by symbols, whether we recognize them as such or not.) 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.
The silence aspect of the setting is also intriguing. While it’s a natural phenomenon that when it snows the world hushes, it’s also working as a means of muting the other symbolic meanings of the snow. In this case, without trying to strain the analogy, the main character isn’t aware of how his life will change during the course of the story. So while the snow is bringing the change, he’s silent about any changes he’s forced to face. Don’t get me started on the sky turning dark…
I’m enjoying the story so far and wonder just how twisted the political scene will become before it’s all over. I feel rather sorry for the samurai, or at least did at the beginning of the tale. He’s growing stronger and more capable as the story progresses, making it easier to identify with him.
Back to work now… Happy Reading!
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How could she love a man suspected of being a turncoat?
Emily Sullivan is beset from all sides but vows to fight her own war for independence. As the American Revolution drags on, Charles Town, South Carolina, remains under siege by the British, and one woman’s father is determined to marry her off to a suspected traitor.
Frank Thomson walks a fine line between spying for the Americans and being a perceived loyalist traitor. Posing as a simple printer of broadsheets and pamphlets, he sends crucial encrypted intelligence to the general camped outside of town. But when Frank learns Emily has been imprisoned by the enemy, he risks his own life, freedom, and heart for hers.
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