After the men spend years in wandering (many of them suffering scurvy due to a lack of vegetables as well as suffering other forms of poor nutrition), they eventually return to Japan, only to undergo persecution on account of their Christian conversion, despite their efforts to hide any evidence of such. There is no happy ending to this tale. There is suicide by seppuku (since despite its sin, suicide was considered a better outcome to that of shame), death by flame, and amid all this, there is a certain quietness present, despite the tragedy, thus ending on a rather understated note. At one time all are there, and then all are not.
The Samurai is also filled with rich language throughout. Translated by Van C. Gessel, Endo’s prose matches the consistency of his other works. Interestingly, he describes stillness not by what it is, but by what it is not: “Stillness was not the absence of sound. Stillness was the rustle of leaves in the groves at the back, the occasional shrill call of a bird, and the shadow of a man starring at tiny flames in a sunken hearth.”
It is moments like these that play off the quiet ending so well. There is pathos, and yet a sense of inevitability. God is present for some, and yet not for others. So in some sense, God is not the de facto Almighty that the narration has makes it seem, but rather, what each reader senses. The last line is also a great one. After the burning, the narrator notes: “The officers and guards no longer stood within the bamboo palisade.” Simply put: they were, and then they were not.
The Samurai is not the best of Endo I’ve read, for I’d recommend his novels The Sea and Poison and Deep River before this one, simply because those books delve a bit more deeply into other matters of the human psyche. His short stories are also excellent, and his innovative structure and rich description is both memorable and impeccable. And while Endo does craft an interesting and complex tale in The Samurai, I cannot help but to think that his overt religious beliefs hindered him more in his fiction than helped. But every artist has his thing. So like a good Catholic, I have forgiven him.