Kiku’s Prayer is set at the moment Japan was reaching out to modernity, in a period of immense fracture, when the nations own view of itself was becoming more divided as it faced a major internal change and also had to confront how it was perceived by the western world. It is at this point that Endo has chosen to set his tale of love and sacrifice, this is a tale of Kiku, a confident brash young woman who falls head over heels in love with Seikichi, an abhorred Kirishitan, a practising Catholic in a land where Christianity is illegal. At the start of this book the Japanese Christians are pretty much ignored, as long as they keep a low profile there seems to be a tacit agreement to let things be. This comes to an abrupt halt after a French priest, sets out on a mission to locate any native Christian followers left from the last purges*. After much searching & upsetting the local authorities during the searching, he finally locates a village of believers. The believers want the priest to say mass & to perform more of the rituals of their catholic faith, this leads to a confrontation with the authorities. The Government respond by having the Christians rounded up & given the option of renouncing their belief or being punished, this ends up with them being exiled from their village and after continued pressure and refusal to renounce, torture.
Whilst this is happening Kiku, who is passionately in love with Seikichi, although she doesn’t understand his faith, is desperate to find him, this leads to her meeting a minor and corrupt official who, after forcing her to have sex with him, makes her give him money which he says he will give to Seikichi to make life easier for him. Kiku willing to do anything to help Seikichi has to sell her body to raise the necessary funds which the corrupt official pockets for himself.
Although there is hope in this book, the Christians due to pressure from the outside world do get released and sort of get their lives back, but Kiku never fulfils her dreams of a life with Seikichi, as what she goes through to help him eventually kills her. This is a really powerful book that questions not only ones faith, but what would you do for the love of someone, although I suppose at the end of the day it’s the same question, it’s just a matter of where your love is directed, for Seikichi this was God, although mainly in the form of Santa Maria. Only towards the end of his exile did he realise a love for Kiku, at this point to late - Kiku whose love was only for Seikichi was dead and to her, whilst she was alive, Santa Maria appeared as the rival, the point at which his love was fixed. It was only towards the end that she shared an understanding with this saint, as women who had both lost people they loved and through this awareness reached some kind of redemption.
*This book is based on a real event the “Fourth Persecution of Urakami” which happened around the start of the Meiji period, and came about when the villagers who had secretly been practising their faith for around 250 years met the missionary priests and no longer wanted to remain silent about their faith, this led them to a direct confrontation with the government through their local representatives. In 1867, 68 villagers were imprisoned marking the beginning of the “Fourth Persecution”. During the following year another 114 were exiled. Whilst this was happening Japan itself was going through major change as the old feudal system was overthrown & with it the warrior class. This didn’t do anything to help the Christians as the new Meiji government kept the prohibition of the Christian faith, with around 3400 being exiled. After five years of exile and pressure from nations like England, the USA, France etc., 1,930 were returned home. Of the original number arrested 662 died through disease & maltreatment (torture, starvation etc) and another 808 never returned or were accounted for, just missing.
I've been contemplating reading an Endo, so maybe I'll make it this one, thanks for this review!.
only read one by him your post remind me to check see if library has any other by him ,after Kawabata in mood for some older J lit modern stuff mostly horror based or crime so will try hope they have this to compare notes ,all the best stu
This sounds like a great companion piece to the earlier setting of 'Silence'. Early Meiji-era Japan was a fascinating place, one where whole philosophies were in flux after the end of the closed-country period. Another Endo to try :)
Oh Gary, you're so right that I would love this book. I'm already crazy about Endo; his book Silence raised the questions of apostasy which seem to be included here, but this book has the added 'benefit' (to me) of being a love story.
I'm riveted by this quotes in your post: "This is a really powerful book that questions not only ones faith, but what would you do for the love of someone, although I suppose at the end of the day it’s the same question, it’s just a matter of where your love is directed..." Who has the answer to this? I don't think we would really know what we would do unless we were confronted by the same tortures that these people were. I'd like to think that how I hope I'd behave/feel would match with what I actually did.
I'm a sucker for love stories. This one is going on my list for sure.
This looks like just the kind of serious thinking book I've been craving lately. I'll look for it and thanks for the review!
This sound really interesting for many reasons.
One aspect about your description that caught my attention seems to be the comparison between the love of God verses love of a person.
The historical angle also sounds intriguing. To have a group secretly practicing Christianity and then to be confronted by Christian missionaries sounds like a unique situation that bears exploration.
Hi Me, this is my third, the others being The Sea & Poison & Stained glass Elegies, so far this is my favourite.
It's nice to read some of the older stuff, but this has its fair share of horror.
Hi Tony, this was a major turning point for Japan & its implications still surface in writing today.
Ciao Bellezza, had a feeling you'd love this, just be aware, this could make you cry.
Hi Pete you want something that's serious and reads well, check this out.
Hi Brian, I'm not sure you can differentiate love, whether it's sacred or profane, I think the two characters of Kiku & Seikichi demonstrate dual aspects of this emotion. As to the historic angle although they had been keeping a low profile for about 250 years, as I said it was partially down to the local village heads/ authorities turning a blind eye. here's some info if interested
Some big questions raised by this book, by the sounds of it. Thanks for reviewing it and giving me a taste of Endo.
Happy New Year, Gary.
Hi Rachel, this is my third Endo & all of them leave you haunted by the bigger questions of existence.
All the best for this New year.
I've yet to read Endo. I've never been that compelled (yet) to read his books. I'll keep this title in mind in any case.
One of the Japanese writers I first picked up knowing nothing about them just found the book in the library The Sea & Poison was that book & it astounded me enough that I sought another which was stained glass elegies again loved it etc etc. Give him a go it's worth the time spent.
The Japanese novel is such a great reading area. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on endo
Read Silence many years ago. This, and my current focus on Japan, makes me think that I should reread it. It has almost disappeared from my memory anyway so would be like the first time.
I can't wait to read this one especially as it's set in such an interesting period in Japan's history. I'm already a huge fan of Endo's and just finished Silence. I also love Van C. Gessel's translation of The Samurai.
Hi Mel, this is an area that still fascinates me.
Hi Seamus, Haven't read silence (it's on my list) but the three I have read have all been great.
Hi Sakura, as stated this is my third, including a short story collection & none of them failed to impress.
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