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The Dreamers & Silence

Is Attention Deficit and Reading Hyperactivity Disorder (ADRHD) a thing? If so, I’ve had it this month. I’ve started reading eight great, intriguing books but I’ve only managed to finish two. Why can’t I just commit to one and stick with it?

The two books I have finished so far are The Dreamers (audiobook) by Karen Thompson Walker and Silence by Shusaku Endo. Neither of these books are characteristic of what I would normally read, but they actually made for an interesting pairing.

The Dreamers takes place in a modern California college town. In one of the dorms, students are falling asleep and not waking up. As this mysterious virus begins to spread throughout the town and some people slip from sleep into death, panic takes hold of the population. The book follows the stories of several characters and the people closest to them as they react to these unusual circumstances. Some people hide away, many try to leave the town, and others strive to help the sick despite the risk to their own well-being.

Silence is a historical fiction novel set in the 17th century. A Portuguese priest travels to Japan with his companion to be missionaries to the peasants there. Japanese Christians face intense persecution for their beliefs. The priest’s faith is tested to the extreme as he is pressured to apostatize.

At first glance, these two books may not seem to have anything in common, but as I’ve reflected on them, they both deal with humans in unusually intense situations. They must make difficult decisions that significantly impact others. With both of these books, I found myself asking “What was the author’s purpose in writing this book? Is it just a source of entertainment? Did the author want to provoke the reader to ask questions or is the author trying to offer an answer about morality and human purpose?”

(***spoiler alert***)

In The Dreamers, a college boy asks a girl what she would do if she had to choose between saving him or two strangers. She responds that she would, of course, save the boy she loves. He tells her this is wrong and that she needs to think about the greater good. In Silence, the priest watches as his companion refuses to apostatize even though several Christians are mercilessly drowned as a result. The priest doubts he would be able to stand firm in his faith when faced with such a decision.

The boy in The Dreamers eventually must live out the ideals he has propounded when a fire threatens the lives of the sleepers. He must choose between saving the girl or an unknown infant. He choses the infant and leaves the girl to die. The priest in Silence comes face to face with the decision to go through the “formality” of trampling on the image of Christ as an apostate act in order to save the lives of tortured Christians. He tramples on the face of his Savior and saves the peasants.

For me, these books provoked more questions than offered clear-cut answers. Both stories had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next and what the characters would decide to do. Honestly, I wanted to scream at the boy to disregard his beliefs and save the girl. Yet I also wanted to yell at the priest to stand firm in his faith and not trample the symbol of Christ. But when I step back and really think about each situation, who am I to judge the characters’ actions? I can’t imagine being in such a difficult situation, and neither situation appears to have a clear right or wrong solution.

As I read Karen Swallow Prior’s thoughts on Silence, this quote stood out to me. It so aptly fits my feelings for both of these books.

But the purpose in reading this novel – or any novel – is not to find definitive answers about the characters. It is rather to ask definitive questions about ourselves. To read about an experience of faith as it falters is an opportunity to seek resolution not in the work of fiction but in the work of our own faith.

“On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior

As I continue to process these two stories, here are some of my take aways and questions I’m continuing to ponder in the context of these books:

  1. The object of our faith matters. Are we trusting in our own strength and wisdom or the ultimate source of strength and wisdom? Are we relying on earthly logic or seeking God’s truth?
  2. Our perspective impacts our actions. Are we only focused on life on earth or do we have eternity in mind when we make decisions?
  3. Living is sometimes more difficult than dying. Are we willing to continue living despite the trials, pain, and sorrow of this temporary earth for the greater glory of eternity? Slipping into an endless sleep with perfect dreams sounds pretty tempting at times. And a quick death sounds like a good escape when facing continual persecution and hardship. How does God want us to live in the day to day life for His glory?
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