Killing Commendatore

Introduction
The questions, discussion topics, and other material that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation of Killing Commendatore, the epic new novel from the internationally acclaimed and best-selling author of 1Q84 and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. As a painter, the narrator might be expected to have an increased sense of awareness and perceptivity. Yet more than once in the book it’s implied that he himself is more the subject of his portraits than the subjects are. Keeping in mind the fantastical element of the Commendatore coming to life, who would you say has the most control in this novel: the subject, the artist, or the audience (the one who owns the work)? Contrast the agency of the Commendatore (an “Idea”) with the Man in the White Subaru Forester and Mariye (whose painting goes unfinished).

2. Discuss the role of art in the novel—not just painting but also music, such as opera, jazz, and Bruce Springsteen. Consider what the Commendatore says of Thelonius Monk: “What is important is not creating something out of nothing. What my friends need to do is discover the right thing from what is already there” (260). What does painting Mariye help each of them discover about something “already there”?

3. The narrator admits that he “prioritized the ego of the artist—myself—over you, the subject” in his painting of Menshiki (214). To his surprise, Menshiki still loves the painting. What does this tell you about Menshiki’s self-awareness and interdependence on others? How do his behaviors support this idea?

4. Menshiki’s choice to live across the water from his daughter alludes to The Great Gatsby—although this relationship is familial rather than romantic love. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, in what other ways is that novel echoed in Killing Commendatore? In what ways are the two books similar and different?

5. Komi’s death had a profound impact on the narrator. How has losing her shaped him as a person? What is Komi’s role in the novel? What are some of the connections between Komi and the other women in the narrator’s life—Yuzu, Mariye, his girlfriend, and Muro? What does each of them possess that attracts him to them, including any artistic appeal? What is suggested by the way he responds to losing (or almost losing) them?

6. Discuss Masahiko’s revelation that people’s faces—and perhaps personalities—are not symmetrical. How does this inform the way that portraits are made in the book and the role of Long Face?

7. What is Tomohiko Amada’s role in the novel? Why is the narrator so determined to learn about Amada’s secret past? What does he discover?

8. What other kinds of asymmetries appear in the novel? Consider the juxtaposition of real and fantastical elements in addition to (mis)matches in people, time, and place.

9. Consider the role of obsession in the book. Which characters are more readily drawn into obsessive states of mind? What do they obsess about? How do they act on these feelings? For example, compare the narrator’s obsession with the pit in the woods (and painting it) with Menshiki’s obsession with Mariye.

10. Why does the narrator need to stab the Commendatore? Is their relationship just an expression of the notion that art and life reflect each other, or is it something more complicated? What kind of agency does he gain from doing so?

11. Consider the narrator’s journey along the Path of Metaphor. What does he experience along the way? Why does he embark on this quest and how does it change him?

12. The scene describing Mariye’s hiding in Menhiki’s house hands over some of the storytelling agency to her—the only time the narrator, and his mind, isn’t fully in control of the story. What does this slip into Mariye’s perspective indicate about her relationship with the narrator? Consider how closely he relates her to his younger sister and the need to protect her even from Menshiki himself.

13. Is the novel a love story? How might it meet the traditional definition of “love story,” and how does it complicate the notion of love?

14. Why does the narrator get back together with his wife? Do you believe that he could really be Muro’s father?Why or why not?

15. How does the narrator come to realize the boundaries of his own knowledge vis-à-vis Mariye’s portrait and his wife’s child? In his interpretation, is not knowing a fault or a benefit?

16. Describe the nature of reality in this novel. Where do the boundaries fall between dream and waking states, conscious and unconscious actions, and truth versus fantasy? Did the time you spent in the world of this book have an impact on your worldview once you finished?

17. Have you read any other books by Murakami? How were they similar to this novel? How were they different? Are there common themes that tie them together?

Men Without Women

1. The title of the collection is Men Without Women. Consider the ways in which the men in these stories find themselves alone, not just without women but, in many cases, without friends as well. Are there similarities between their situations? What does it mean to be a man without women, both in the title story and throughout the collection?

2. Kafuku, the protagonist of “Drive My Car,” divides people into groups. For example, he says female drivers are either “a little too aggressive or a little too timid” (3) and identifies two types of drinkers: “those who drank to enhance their personalities, and those who sought to rid themselves of something” (29). What’s the effect of classifying people in this way? What does it reveal about how Kafuku sees the world? Do you think there’s any truth to these kinds of classifications?

3. Kafuku has a “blind spot” in his vision that prevents him from driving, but also a “sixth sense” that enables him to know his wife is cheating on him. How is he—and other men in this collection—both aware of and oblivious to what’s going on around him?

4. Why does Kitaru want the narrator to date his girlfriend, Erika Kuritani? Why do Kitaru and Erika eventually break up? Do you think they are ultimately destined to be together? Do you think it is possible for the men in these stories to have platonic relationships with women?

5. Kitaru makes up his own lyrics to the song “Yesterday.” Why do you think Kitaru plays with the words, and how does the narrator react? How does this mirror the ways in which both Kitaru and the narrator want to become “a totally different person” (45)? How do they each accomplish this? Does either of them succeed?

6. What kind of person is Dr. Tokai? He is described as “not the sort of person with an excessive amount of room for misunderstanding” (78), yet the narrator seems to have complicated feelings about him, calling him both a “principled soul” and also someone lacking “intellectual acuity” (77) who “only thought of himself” (91). How does he come across throughout the story? Does the narrator’s perception of him change by the end? Does your own?

7. What is the “independent organ” Dr. Tokai believes in? How does it impact men and women in different ways?

8. In both “An Independent Organ” and “Scheherazade,” lovesickness is presented as an actual medical condition. What is the effect of treating the relationships between men and women in this way? Why do you think Murakami chose to do so?

9. “Scheherazade” (as Habara, the main character of this story, nicknames her), claims to have been a lamprey in a previous life, “fastened to a rock” (120), but it is Habara who now seems stuck in one place, unable to leave his house. Why do you think he has to remain at home? How can each of their lives be seen as lamprey-like?

10. In high school, Scheherazade became addicted to housebreaking. How does her obsession compare and contrast with Habara’s need for her stories—and his fear of losing them?

11. Kamita tells the two yakuza that visit Kino’s bar, “Memories can be useful” (157). What do you think he means by this? Are memories helpful for Kamita later in the story?

12. Kino’s aunt calls snakes “essentially ambiguous creatures” (172). Do you agree, based on the role they play in the story? Are they, as she suggests, harbingers of disaster, or guides, or something else?

13. “Samsa in Love” is a reversal of Franz Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis,” in which a man finds himself transformed into an insect. How does Gregor Samsa view the world—and people—differently after having been a bug? Why do you think Murakami chose to retell the story in this way?

14. How does the narrator of “Men Without Women” respond to finding out that his ex-girlfriend has killed herself? Why do you think he reacts this way? Do his feelings cause him to look inward or outward?

15. What does the narrator mean when he says he’s “trying to write about essence, rather than the truth” (218)? Are there other stories or novels you’ve read that also deal with the distinction between the two?

16. Haruki Murakami’s stories are famous for their fantastical elements—talking cats and parallel universes. Do any of these elements appear in the stories in this collection? What purpose do you think they serve?

17. Acting—or “becoming somebody different” (23)—is a major theme throughout the stories in this collection. In “Yesterday,” the narrator says that “you can’t just change your personality” (68); nonetheless, many characters do try to reinvent themselves. Do you believe that it’s possible to become a different person? What do the examples in these stories suggest?

18. Music is a constant presence in these stories—as it is in all of Haruki Murakami’s books. In “Yesterday,” the narrator remarks, “Music has that power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt” (75). Do you agree? What role does music play in this collection?

19. Consider the roles of fate, luck, and predestination in these stories. Do the characters in these stories believe in these things?

20. Have you read any other books by Murakami? How were they similar or different to the stories in Men Without Women? Are there common themes that tie them together?

Wind/Pinball

About this Guide

The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the introduction in relation to the content of both novels. Consider this statement, found on page xv: “It is the inherent right of all writers to experiment with the possibilities of language in every way they can imagine.” What stylistic risks were present in these novels?
  2. On page xvii, Murakami describes Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 as his “kitchen-table novels.” What information did you find most surprising or revelatory about Murakami’s beginnings as a writer?
  3. Hear the Wind Sing opens with thoughts about the writing process and its relation to general satisfaction with life. Why do you think the protagonist evokes fictitious Derek Hartfield’s experiences? How does Hartfield’s status as a “fighter…a man who used words as weapons” echo throughout the novel?
  4. How would you characterize the Rat? How does his personality shift or change between the two novels? What does the Rat value most in life?
  5. Discuss the relationship between the protagonist and the Rat. What common traits do they share? How do they complement each other?
  6. Few characters in Wind/Pinball are acknowledged by their given names, and are instead referred to by general identifiers: “the girl,” “the twins,” “the Rat.” Why do you think Murakami made this stylistic decision? What effect does it have on the reader? What does this choice assert about identity?
  7. In Hear the Wind Sing, the protagonist comments that the Rat “out-and-out despised” the rich (page 9), despite being born into a wealthy family. What role do class and status play in these novels? How does Rat actively fight his upbringing and social class?
  8. Both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 feature moments of extreme malaise from its protagonists. How do the narrator and the Rat abate their sadness? What comforts—if only temporary solutions—do they afford themselves in their despair?
  9. Discuss the protagonist’s childhood and adolescence as presented in Hear the Wind Sing. What clues are you given about his personality via descriptions of his upbringing? How does his doctor’s dictum, “Civilization is communication,” echo throughout both novels?
  10. J the bartender maintains a significant presence in Wind/Pinball. What is his role in the novels? How does he act as a soundboard for both the protagonist and the Rat?
  11. On page 25, the protagonist comments that “for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it was like to meet a girl under normal circumstances.” Examine his relationship with women as discussed in these novels. How do his early experiences with women affect his outlook on life?
  12. The section “On the Birth of Pinball” discusses the innovation and creation of the pinball machine. Why do you think the protagonist is invested in pinball as both a practice and an invention?
  13. On pages 124–7, the protagonist discusses his career as a translator. How does he react to his financial success? What—if anything—does he values about his career?
  14. Discuss the role of the twins in Pinball, 1973. What do we learn about them over the course of the novel?
  15. Analyze the journey that the protagonist takes in Pinball, 1973 wherein the protagonist seeks out the elusive pinball machine from J’s bar. Discuss the scene in which he is brought to the warehouse. What significance does the machine hold in his life?
  16. Murakami seamlessly blends moments of surrealism among scenes of day-to-day trivialities. What moments bent reality for you during your reading experience? How did you interpret them?
  17. There is striking visual imagery in both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. What scenes resonated most with you?
  18. What other works by Murakami have you read? Did you find these novels to fit in his oeuvre? Can you trace any commonalities between these works and others?

 

Suggested Reading

Carver, Raymond. Where I’m Calling From.

Chandler, Raymond. Farewell, My Lovely.

Kafka, Franz. The Trial.

Mitchell, David. Number9Dream.

Murakami, Haruki. A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five.

Colorless Tsukuru

About This Guide
The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the eagerly anticipated new novel by Haruki Murakami.

Question & Answer

  1. What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?
  2. Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?
  3. Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (p. 310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?
  4. Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?
  5. Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?
  6. Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?
  7. Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (p. 148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?
  8. When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?
  9. When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.
  10. Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?
  11. Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?
  12. The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?
  13. Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (p. 44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?
  14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?
  15. While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (p. 322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?
  16. Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?
  17. Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?
  18. Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (p. 385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?
  19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?

Suggested Reading
Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes; Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch; Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude; Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City; David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas; Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood; Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities; Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being; Zadie Smith, NW

Kafka on the Shore

About This Guide:

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“As powerful as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. . . . Reading Murakami . . . is a striking experience in consciousness expansion.” —Chicago Tribune

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your group­s discussion of Kafka on the Shore, the magical new novel by the internationally acclaimed author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami. Part bildungsroman, part metaphysical thriller, part meditation on the elusive nature of time, Kafka on the Shore displays all the talents that have made Haruki Murakami one of the most beloved novelists in the world today.

About This Book:

Kafka on the Shore is structured around the alternating stories of Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from home to escape an awful oedipal prophecy, and Nakata, an aging and illiterate simpleton who has never completely recovered from a wartime affliction. Kafka’s journey brings him to a small private library in the provincial town of Takamatsu and to a mountain hideaway where the ordinary laws of time no longer apply. But, like Oedipus, the more Kafka tries to avoid his fate, the closer he comes to fulfilling it. Nakata also sets forth on a quest for an enigmatic entrance stone, the significance of which he does not understand. These narratives push relentlessly forward like trains running on parallel tracks. We know the tracks will converge at some point, but not knowing when, or where, or how creates the suspense that makes the novel so compelling and drives it to its astonishing conclusion. Along the way Kafka on the Shore investigates and sometimes challenges our conceptions of time, fate, chance, love, and the very nature of human reality. The novel offers up a rich array of extraordinary characters and outrageous happenings: fish falling from the sky, conversations between man and cat, a supernatural Colonel Sanders’s ghostly but deeply sensual lovers, a philosophical prostitute, World War II soldiers untouched by time, and much else both strange and wonderful. But more than metaphysical fun is at stake in Kafka on the Shore. There is a vicious murder to be solved, complex and possibly incestuous relationships to be untangled, and the very nature of reality itself hangs in the balance.

Intellectually ambitious, emotionally intense, and beautifully written, Kafka on the Shore bristles with Murakami’s unique brand of imaginative brio. Readers will find themselves simultaneously wanting to turn the pages faster and faster to find out what happens and to slow down to savor the depth and beauty of Murakami’s prose.

For Discussion

  1. The first character to speak in Kafka on the Shore is the boy named Crow [p. 3]. Who is he? What part of Kafka Tamura’s psyche does he represent?
  2. Kafka, we later learn, means crow in Czech. What relationship is Murakami trying to suggest between Franz Kafka, Kafka Tamura, the boy named Crow, and actual crows? At what significant moments do crows appear in the novel? What symbolic value do they have?
  3. When Kafka meets Sakura on the bus, they agree that even chance meetings . . . are the results of karma and that things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence [p. 33]. What role does fate, or meaningful coincidence, play in the novel? Is it karma that determines Kafka’s destiny?
  4. Much of the novel alternates between Kafka’s story and Nakata’s. What effects does Murakami create by moving the reader back and forth between parallel narratives? What is the relationship between Nakata and Kafka?
  5. When Kafka is a young boy, his father tells him: Someday you will murder your father and be with your mother [p. 202], the same destiny as Oedipus. Kafka’s father also tells him that he will sleep with his sister and that there is nothing he can do to prevent this prophecy from being fulfilled. How do Kafka’s attempts to escape his fate bring him closer to fulfilling it?
  6. The phrase for the time being is repeated throughout Kafka on the Shore. Why has Murakami chosen to use this qualifying statement so often? How is the conventional concept of time stretched and challenged by events in the novel? Why does Miss Saeki tell Kafka: Times rules don’t apply here. Time expands, then contracts, all in tune with the stirrings of the heart [p. 219]?
  7. In what ways are the boundaries between past and present, dreaming and waking, fantasy and reality blurred and often erased in Kafka on the Shore?
  8. The teacher in charge of the children who lost consciousness in the woods during World War II writes to her professor many years later and tells him: I find the worldview that runs through all of your publications very convincing namely that as individuals each of us is extremely isolated, while at the same time we are all linked by a prototypical memory [p. 96]. How are the main characters of the novel Kafka, Nakata, Oshima, Miss Saeki extremely isolated? In what ways do they share a prototypical memory? What would that memory be?
  9. Kafka Tamura seems, in some mysterious way, to be both Miss Saeki’s son and the ghost of her long-dead lover. How does Murakami intend us to understand this shifting and apparently impossible dual identity?
  10. What is the relationship between Nakata’s quest for the entrance stone and Kafka’s journey into the forest?
  11. In what ways can Kafka on the Shore be read as a love story?
  12. The supernatural shape-shifter, who takes the form of Colonel Sanders, tells Hoshino that he is neither God nor Buddha but a kind of overseer, supervising something to make sure it fulfills its original role. Checking the correlation between different worlds, making sure things are in the right order [p. 284]. What are these different worlds? Is Colonel Sanders talking about parallel universes?
  13. Kafka on the Shore is, for the most part, a realistic novel, yet it contains many magical elements Nakata’s ability to talk with cats and make fish fall from the sky, the shape-shifting Colonel Sanders, the middle-aged Miss Saeki visiting Kafka as her fifteen-year-old self. What is Murakami saying about the nature of reality and our beliefs about it through these seemingly impossible episodes?
  14. At the end of the novel, Oshima tells Kafka, “You’ve grown up” [p. 463]. In what ways has Kafka been changed by his experience? What are the most important things he has learned? Why does he feel he has entered a brand-new world [p. 467]?

Suggested Reading:

Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes; Takashi Atoda, The Square Persimmon and Other Stories; Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World; Franz Kafka, The Castle; Yumiko Kurahashi, Cruel Fairy Tales for Adults; Yukio Mishima, The Temple of Dawn; Kenzaburo Oe, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness; Jay Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex.

Norwegian Wood

About this Guide:

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. We hope they will lead to a richer understanding of this remarkable novel.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. When Watanabe arrives in Hamburg and hears the song “Norwegian Wood,” memories of a scene with Naoko from eighteen years before come back to him. He feels these memories as “kicks” and says they were “longer and harder than usual. Which is why I am writing this book. To think. To understand. . . . I have to write things down to feel I fully understand them” [p. 5]. Why does this particular song have such a powerful effect on Watanabe? What does he understand—or fail to understand—about it by the end of the novel? In what ways does the process of writing help in understanding?
  2. Many readers and critics have observed that Norwegian Wood is Murakami’s most autobiographical book. While we can never know exactly to what degree a work of fiction reflects the lived experience of its author, what qualities of the novel feel autobiographical rather than purely fictional? Do these qualities enhance your enjoyment of the book?
  3. After Watanabe sleeps with Naoko, he says that “her cry was the saddest sound of orgasm I had ever heard” [p. 40]. Just before she commits suicide, Naoko tells Reiko: “I just don’t want anybody going inside me again. I just don’t want to be violated like that again—by anybody” [p. 284]. In what sense did Watanabe “violate” her? Do you feel this experience directly relates to her suicide? Was it, as Watanabe still asks himself nearly twenty years later, “the right thing to do”?
  4. Throughout the novel, Watanabe is powerfully drawn to both Naoko and Midori. How are these women different from one another? How would you describe the different kinds of love they offer Watanabe? Why do you think he finally chooses Midori? Has he made the right choice?
  5. The events Norwegian Wood relates take place in the late sixties, a period of widespread student unrest. The university Watanabe attends is frequently beset with protests and strikes and, in Watanabe’s view, pompous “revolutionary” speeches filled with meaningless cliches. “The true enemy of this bunch,” Watanabe thinks, “was not State Power but Lack of Imagination” [p. 57]. At first, he identifies with the student protesters but then grows cynical. What qualities of Watanabe’s character make this cynicism inevitable? What is Midori’s reaction to student activism?
  6. How would you describe Watanabe’s friend Nagasawa? What is his view of life, of the right way to live? Why is Watanabe drawn to him? In what important ways—particularly in their treatment of women—are they different? How does Murakami use the character of Nagasawa to define Watanabe more sharply?
  7. The Great Gatsby is Watanabe’s favorite book, one that he rereads often. Why do you think he identifies so strongly with Fitzgerald’s novel? What does this identification reveal about his character and his worldview?
  8. In many ways, Norwegian Wood is a novel about young people struggling to find themselves and survive their various troubles. Kizuki, Hatsumi, Naoko’s sister, and Naoko herself fail in this struggle and commit suicide. How do their deaths affect those they leave behind? In what ways does Kizuki’s suicide both deepen and tragically limit Watanabe’s relationship with Naoko?
  9. Murakami’s prose rises at times to an incandescent lyricism. The description of Watanabe embracing Naoko is one such instance: “From shoulder to back to hips, I slid my hand again and again, driving the line and the softness of her body into my brain. After we had been in this gentle embrace for a while, Naoko touched her lips to my forehead and slipped out of bed. I could see her pale blue gown flash in the darkness like a fish” [p. 163]. Where else do you find this poetic richness in Norwegian Wood? What does such writing add to the novel? What does it tell us about Watanabe’s sensibility?
  10. At the center of the novel, Reiko tells the long and painful story of how her life was ruined by a sexual relationship with a young and pathologically dishonest female student. How does this story within the story illuminate other relationships in the novel?
  11. What is unusual about the asylum where Reiko and Naoko are staying? What methods of healing are employed there? How do the asylum and the principles on which it is run illuminate the concerns about being “normal” that nearly all the characters in the novel express?
  12. Naoko attributes Kizuki’s suicide and her own depression to the fact that they shared such an idyllic childhood together and eventually, as adults, had to pay the price for that early happiness. “We didn’t pay when we should have, so now the bills are due” [p. 128]. Do you think this is an accurate way of understanding what’s happened to them? What alternative explanations would you propose?
  13. After Kizuki and Naoko have both committed suicide, Watanabe writes: “I had learned one thing from Kizuki’s death, and I believed that I had made it part of myself in the form of a philosophy: ‘Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life’” [p. 273]. What do you think he means? Is this view of life and death resigned or affirmative? How would such a philosophy change one’s approach to life?
  14. What makes Midori such an engaging and forceful character? How is she different from everyone else in the novel? What kind of love does she demand from Watanabe? Is she being selfish in her demands or simply asking for what everyone wants but is afraid to pursue?
  15. Norwegian Wood appears to end on a happy note with Watanabe calling Midori and telling her: “All I want in the world is you. . . . I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning” [p. 293]. But when Midori asks where he is, Watanabe is plunged into a kind of existential confusion. How do you interpret the novel’s final mysterious sentence: “Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place.” Is there anything positive in Watanabe’s not knowing “where he is”? What is the significance of his being at the “dead center” of no place, wishing for a new beginning?
  16. The events of the novel take place in the fictional past. What can you infer about Watanabe’s present condition from the way he tells this story? Do you imagine that he and Midori have remained together?

1Q84

About this Guide:

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of 1Q84, the magnum opus of critically acclaimed and best-selling novelist, Haruki Murakami, author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka on the Shore

About this Book:

Set in 1984, Haruki Murakami’s expansive new novel tells the story of the deeply intertwined fates of its two remarkable protagonists, Tengo and Aomame.

Tengo and Aomame were grade school classmates who experienced a moment of mystical union when Aomame, a girl shunned for belonging to a fringe religious group, suddenly seized Tengo’s hand and looked deeply into his eyes. Their paths diverged shortly after Aomame’s impulsive and ambiguous gesture, but each was left profoundly changed by it. For the next 20 years, they are held in the gravitational pull of this brief moment of connection.

Now they are nearly thirty. Tengo is a math teacher and unpublished novelist, drifting rather aimlessly through his life, with no clear sense of purpose or ambition. Aomame is a fitness instructor, bodyworker and, most importantly, an assassin of men who have violently abused their wives.

When Komatsu, an unscrupulous and cynical editor, asks Tengo to rewrite a story by 17-year-old Fuka-Eri so that it can be considered for a major literary prize, Tengo realizes he’s entering into a devil’s bargain. But he’s so taken with the story that he is unable to resist Komatsu’s offer. Accepting the task opens up a Pandora’s box of perils that far surpass even Tengo’s and Komatsu’s worst fears. The novel, Air Chrysalis, becomes an immediate best seller, attracting widespread media attention that threatens to uncover Komatsu’s and Tengo’s scam. More ominously, the novel has aroused the ire of the “little people,” a malevolent group of other-worldly miniature spirits.

Aomame meanwhile has her own secrets. Employed by an elderly dowager, she stealthily and expertly murders men who have abused their wives but remain unprosecuted. When she accepts the assignment to kill the heavily protected leader of Sakigake, the very religious cult that Fuka-Eri had fled and written about in Air Chrysalis, she too enters a world of danger she never could have imagined. She has literally entered another world, one that is nearly identical to the ordinary world of 1984 except that it has two moons in the sky. And in this new world, the flow of time—and rules of reality—have been subtly altered.

Blurring the line between possible and impossible, linear and non-linear time, fiction and reality, fate and free will, 1Q84 is both a metaphysical mind-teaser and a fast-paced thriller where the stakes for Tengo and Aomame couldn’t be any higher. Murakami’s most ambitious novel to date, 1Q84 is also an extraordinary love story, a story about the power of a single moment of deep connection to transcend time and space—and justify even the greatest of risks.

Question & Answer:

  1. 1Q84 is a vast and intricate novel. What are the pleasures of reading such a long work, of staying with the same characters over such a long period of time?
  2. Murakami has said he is a fan of the mystery writer Elmore Leonard. What elements of the mystery genre does 1Q84 employ? How does Murakami keep readers guessing about what will happen next? What are some of the book’s most surprising moments?
  3. Why would Murakami choose to set his story in 1984, the year that would serve as the title for George Orwell’s famous novel about the dangers of Big Brother?
  4. The taxi driver in Chapter 1 warns Aomame that things are not what they seem, but he also tells her: “Don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality” (p. 9). Does this statement hold true throughout the novel? Is there only one reality, despite what appears to be a second reality that Aomame and Tengo enter?
  5. Aomame tells Ayumi: “We think we’re choosing things for ourselves, but in fact we may not be choosing anything. It could be that everything’s decided in advance and we pretend we’re making choices. Free will may be an illusion” (p. 192). Do the events in the novel seem fated or do the characters have free will?
  6. When Tamaru bids goodbye to Aomame, he says: “If you do go somewhere far away and I never see you again, I know I’ll feel a little sad. You’re a rare sort of character, a type I’ve seldom come across before” (p. 885). What type of person is Aomame? What qualities make her extraordinary?
  7. The dowager insists, and Aomame agrees, that the killing they do is completely justified, that the men whom they kill deserve to die, that the legal system can’t touch them, and that more women will be victims if these men aren’t stopped. Is it true that Aomame and the dowager have done nothing wrong? Or are they simply rationalizing their anger and the desire for vengeance that arises from their own personal histories?
  8. Tengo realizes that rewriting Air Chrysalis is highly unethical and that Komatsu is asking him to participate in a scam that will very likely cause them both a great deal of trouble. Why does he agree to do it?
  9. How does rewriting Air Chrysalis change Tengo as a writer? How does it affect the course of his life?
  10. How do the events that occur on the night of the huge thunderstorm alter the fates of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and the dowager? Why do Aomame and the dowager let go of their anger after the storm?
  11. At first, Ushikawa is a creepy, totally unlikable character. How does Murakami make him more sympathetic as the novel progresses? How do you respond to his death?
  12. Near the end of the novel, Aomame declares: “From now on, things will be different. Nobody else’s will is going to control me anymore. From now on, I’m going to do things based on one principle alone: my own will” (p. 885). How does Aomame arrive at such a firm resolve? In what ways is the novel about overcoming the feeling of powerlessness that at various times paralyzes Aomame, Ayumi, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and all the women who are abused by their husbands? What enables Aomame to come into her own power?
  13. What does the novel as a whole seem to say about fringe religious groups? How does growing up in the Society of Witnesses affect Aomame? How does growing up in Sakigake cult affect Fuka-Eri? Does Leader appear to be a true spiritual master?
  14. What is the appeal of the fantastic elements in the novel—the little people, maza and dohta, the air chrysalis, two moons in the sky, alternate worlds, etc.? What do they add to the story? In what ways does the novel question the nature of reality and the boundaries between what is possible and not possible?
  15. What makes the love story of Tengo and Aomame so compelling? What obstacles must they overcome to be together? Why was the moment when Aomame grasped Tengo’s hand in grade school so significant?
  16. In what ways does 1Q84 question and complicate conventional ideas of authorship? How does it blur the line between fictional reality and ordinary reality?
  17. References to the song “Paper Moon” appear several times in the novel. How do those lyrics relate to 1Q84?
  18. What role does belief play in the novel? Why does Murakami end the book with the image of Tengo and Aomame gazing at the moon until it becomes “nothing more than a gray paper moon, hanging in the sky” (p. 925)?

Suggested Reading:

Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy; Roberto Bolano, 2666; Julio Cortazar, Hopscotch; Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery; Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon; Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five; David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.