Thursday 11 August 2022

Masaru - Michael T. Cibenko

ISBN 9781935228233

I had picked up this book to read as part of the Good Reads Catholic book club. But because of my issues I refrained from commenting in the chats until after I had processed and written the following review. I have mixed feeling about this volume. I give it a solid 4/5 stars as a debut effort. My consternation comes from the liberties taken. Over the last few years I have read several works about saints and martyrs from around the world. I have been trying to track down the out of print volume Martyrs of Nagasaki by Lucian Hunt from the Catholic Truth Society, after having read The Martyrs of Korea by Father Richard Rutt. I had heard a lot of good things about this volume prior to reading it. And as a novel, even a Christian or Catholic novel it is well written. But the moving of dates, events, and attribution of faith to a princess with no historical evidence detracted from the story for me. A few times I stopped reading to go and check certain dates, events, or even the use of canons in Japan. If the authors note at the end of the volume where he explains some of this had been at the beginning it would not have been so perplexing while I read. And I know I am probably in the minority of readers who would have picked up on these things. And yet, it did play a roll in my enjoyment at the time of reading. Michael states in the author’s note:

“The statue is the likeness of Shirō Amakusa, the young Catholic samurai who is the inspiration for the main character in Masaru. The family name of Nakagawa was borrowed from my Japanese maternal grandmother. The real-life Shirō did indeed lead an uprising of peasants, many of whom were persecuted Christians, in what came to be known as The Shimabara Rebellion.

 The actual rebellion, which lasted from December 1637 to April 1638, took place on the Shimabara Peninsula of Nagasaki, just north of Amakusa. Visitors today can see the ruins of Hara Castle, the fortress where some thirty thousand people, including women and children, sought refuge. In Masaru, the setting of events was shifted slightly eastward, primarily between Yatsushiro and Hitoyoshi on the main island of Kyūshū. This is the area more intimately familiar to me, having lived there for a considerable time. But those wishing to learn more about the actual events will find themselves directed to points northwest of the setting in Masaru.”

And also:

“Following the events of the Shimabara Rebellion, Christianity in Japan was strictly banned for nearly two and half centuries. With the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 and the subsequent reopening of Japan to the outside world, foreigners were once again permitted into the country. French Catholic missionaries were astonished to discover an entire community of “hidden Christians” in Nagasaki. This underground group had, albeit without the benefit of ordained priests, baptized and handed down the faith to their children over the course of all those generations. When news of this reached the West, Pope Pius IX declared it a miracle.”

It is a very interesting novel. It presents many historical events in an engaging and entertaining read. I am certain my son will love it and it has been added to his summer reading list. It is a book I can see tweens and teens really getting into. And there is some great presentation of Christian doctrine in the dialogue. 

Both history and historical fiction books from the time of this book are important. Much like reading about the Holocaust it is not fun to do, but important to do. The presentation of the fledgling Catholic faith in Japan at this time is well written. The story is engaging. After reading the authors note I had a much greater appreciation overall. I do not believe this volume has the power of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, I could see the author growing towards that achievement. I would have no issue picking up another volume from the author. As much as I struggled with the historical inaccuracies I find the book well worth the read, and therefore can recommend it to tweens, teen, and young adult readers without hesitation.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan!

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