Tag Archive: Review 5

A punk Pippi?

Today’s book is the third book of the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Yesterday was one of those stormy, wet days that discourages a person from even taking a walk with the dog. So I sat down and read this book. All of it.

Like with the second book in the series, one cannot sum up the plot, which if anything, seems even more expansive and rambling on this go around. But the basis of it is that Lis Salander is on trial for attempted murder, dark government sources are at work, and crusading journalist Blomkvist is trying to dig up the truth and save Salander. Okay, so a few thoughts. This book was clearly the least edited of the three–it isn’t as tight and suspenseful (until the last 200 pages of so), and that makes sense given that Larsson died before he had a chance to really edit the original, raw manuscript. But the book is still compulsively readable, and gives a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Much has been said about the violence in Larsson’s books. I have to say when I read the first book in the series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) this past summer, I was put off by the descriptions of rape and sexual sadism. Granted, Larsson does not linger over them, but they are there, and that is part of the reason why I did not immediately finish the series. This time around with the last two books there is more murder than rape (that doesn’t really make anything better) but again, the descriptions are brief-they exist mainly to move along the plot. Even so, I am still not sure how I feel about this particular issue in the books. I understand why Larsson uses violence in his books, I understand his point, and I don’t think he could have done it any other way– but still, these books are not for the squeamish.

Then there is Lis Salander. My mom read the series before I did, and when I asked her about it in an email after she finished she told me that she was thinking about “Lis Salander all the time.” That is to say, Salander is Larsson’s most unusual creation in these books. Some reviewers have called her a “punk Pippi Longstockings”– Salander is a computer hacker, an wiz kid with Aspergers, and an abuse victim of the most horrible sort. She operates outside of society because society has failed her. It is also important to point out that Salander has a strong set of morals. Her own morality, to be sure, but she has a sense of personal responsibility and a rather unique sense of right and wrong. As a character, she is unforgettable– where Larsson came up with her is beyond me, but she does linger in the reader’s mind (like my mom said) long after one is done with the books.

One aspect of the book that is not written about often is the issue of friendship. I found this particularly interesting given that most of the relationships between men and women in these books are unconventional by (ideal) American standards (although not by Swedish standards if I understand correctly.) Love affairs happen on and off. Characters have lovers, even while married , there are various trysts and so forth, and many of the characters live together while unmarried. Relationships are so varied, that there is not one norm in the book, and I think that is why it is important to notice that one character points out that “Friendship is the most common form of love.”  Because even while the relationships between all the characters exist in a myriad of forms, it is a friendship that propels the books forward–that is the friendship between Salander and Blomkvist. Now Salander doesn’t really want the friendship, but she eventually caves in to Blomkvist when she realizes it cannot be her against the world, even though she is naturally suspicious of anyone and has almost no real friends. Blomkvist himself doesn’t understand why he goes to bat for Salander– he mainly just acknowledges that he cares for her and likes her. Now I think this is crucial–sometimes we cannot control who we love, or who becomes our friends. Sometimes you just love someone and there is no rhyme or reason to it. Larsson gets this, and that is one of the things I felt that was compelling about Blomkvist’s character. In a world where sexual relationships are ambiguous, Larsson paints friendship as perhaps, the one great love that one can have for another. I think he might be onto something here– as a society we put a huge importance on romantic love (talking about “the one” and all that nonsense) but we don’t really talk about friendship in the same way. Friendships are quieter, but they are also just as important because romantic love comes and goes– and even when it stays the basis to all romantic love is a good friendship anyway. I think Larsson gets this, and I think the importance of friendship is a one of the main themes of these books, but it is a subtle theme, something that is humming quietly under the surface.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C

The Silence of God

“The Japanese are not able to think of God completely divorced from man; the Japanese cannot think of an existence that transcends the human.”

This evening I finished Shusaku Endo’s Silence.  Endo, as the translator notes in his preface, is sometimes described as the Japanese Graham Greene, and as I read the story I did notice some similarities to Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  Set in 17th century Japan, the novel follows the story of a Portuguese Christian missionary, Sebastian Rodrigues, who heads for the island with a companion despite the recent outlawing of Christianity and accompanying persecutions.

Endo paints a vivid and stark picture of the perils these missionaries and others like them faced.  To reach the island, they have to sail ashore on a beach rather than at a harbor and under the cover of dark.  The missionaries hide in a small hut in the mountains during the day and minister to the underground Christians only at night.  Travel to another underground Christian village is fraught with danger of discovery and imprisonment.  Moreover, the Japanese government offers a generous reward to those who turn in Christians – an understandable temptation to peasants living on next to nothing.  Less than half way through the novel, Rodrigues is captured, betrayed (unsurprisingly) by the very man who brought him to the island, a Japanese Christian who regularly renounces his faith to save his skin.  The rest of the novel describes how the priest wrestles with his faith, particularly in light of the suffering his arrival has brought upon the Christian peasants of Japan.

The silence of the title refers primarily to the silence of God in the face of the horrific suffering the Japanese Christians endure: some are tied to stakes in the ocean and left to die over the course of several days; others are bound and thrown into the sea to drown; another is beheaded by a samurai; and still others are tortured in “the pit,” the gruesome details of which I’d rather not go into here.  Faced with this horrific suffering, Rodrigues regularly asks God why he remains silent.  Ought he not show himself the Lord of the universe when his chosen ones are suffering at the hands of his enemies?  At the same time, the priest frequently meditates on the face of Christ, the one who also experienced the silence of God and whose beautiful face the Japanese rulers want Rodrigues to trample in an act of apostasy.  In his better moments, he sees his own suffering and that of the tiny flock in his charge as a participation in Christ’s own sufferings, but it is clear throughout the novel that his courage and conviction are challenged by his experience.  Add to this experience the weakness of his betrayer and of another Portuguese missionary, Ferreira (an actual historical figure), who apostatized and chose to collaborate with the Japanese, and the temptation to follow suit becomes practically overwhelming.

Silence is a complex, moving, and challenging novel.  As I read it, I felt torn in two directions.  On the one hand, as Rodrigues continually asked God why he remained silent, I wondered how well he had learned the gospel and counted the cost before he set out on his mission.  Jesus never said following him would be easy – on the contrary, those who would follow him can expect the same kind of treatment he received, and last I checked, crucifixion isn’t a walk in the park.  But then I asked myself, how would I have responded in the same situation?  It’s easy to accept suffering when it amounts to an annoying student here, a tedious meeting there.  If I were to witness first hand the kind of horror that Rodrigues faces, could I look it in the eye and remain strong?  I hope so, but I don’t know.

One more theme the book emphasizes is the seeming incompatibility between Christianity and Japan.  The Japanese rulers insist that Japan is a “swamp” in which the sapling of Christianity cannot grow.  William Johnston notes in the preface that Silence caused quite a stir among some contemporary Japanese Christians, who would contest this claim.  Yet I wonder if the voice of the Japanese rulers represents Endo’s own voice.  He himself was a Christian, and he portrays many of the Japanese Christians in heroic ways.  I suppose the ambiguity is one of the things I found compelling about the novel – despite its simplicity of style, the thrust of the story is not necessarily as straightforward as it seems.

If you have any interest in 17th century Japan, the interface of Christianity with foreign cultures, or issues of faith, doubt, and apostasy, then I highly recommend Silence.

Five down, (at least) forty-seven to go.