The Book That Changed My Life

Gene Luen Yang

Gene Luen Yang was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist in Young People's Literature for American Born Chinese.

Lots of comics and graphic novels have influenced me as a graphic novelist. I could give you a list as long as my arm, but here are a few stand-outs:

Novels without pictures have had their influence, too. One immediately comes to mind: Silence by Shusaku Endo. I feel a special kinship with Endo because, like me, he was an Asian who chose to embrace a Western faith. He constantly dealt with the tension between East and West in his life and in his writing. Silence tells the story of Sebastian Rodrigues, a young Portuguese priest searching for his mentor in seventeenth century Japan. A palpable humility pervades the entire novel. It informs the way Endo plots, the way he describes his settings, and the way he puts his scenes together. His protagonist fights it tooth and nail for most of the book. In the end, Father Rodrigues, like Endo himself, finds resolution to his inner struggles by accepting humility as his guiding principle.

Anyone who knows me – I mean really knows me – knows that I struggle with humility, especially as a cartoonist. Often, my desire to tell a good story gets overshadowed by my desire to impress. I end up tripping over my own panels. In times like these, it does me good to remember Silence, both the story it tells and the way it is told.

Gene Luen Yang