Killing Commendatore (Murakami)

Killing Commendatore
Haruki Murakami, 2018
Knopf Doubleday
704 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780525520047 


Summary
The epic new novel from the internationally acclaimed and best-selling author of 1Q84

In Killing Commendatore, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, Tomohiko Amada.

When he discovers a previously unseen painting in the attic, he unintentionally opens a circle of mysterious circumstances.

To close it, he must complete a journey that involves a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors.

A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art—as well as a loving homage to The Great GatsbyKilling Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—January 12, 1949
Where—Kyoto, Japan
Education—Waseda University
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives near Tokyo


Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer. Murakami has been translated into 50 languages and his best-selling books have sold millions of copies.

His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards, both in Japan and internationally, including the World Fantasy Award (2006) and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award (2006), while his oeuvre garnered among others the Franz Kafka Prize (2006) and the Jerusalem Prize (2009). Murakami's most notable works include A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-1995), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–2010). He has also translated a number of English works into Japanese, from Raymond Carver to J. D. Salinger.

Murakami's fiction, often criticized by Japan's literary establishment as un-Japanese, was influenced by Western writers from Chandler to Vonnegut by way of Brautigan. It is frequently surrealistic and melancholic or fatalistic, marked by a Kafkaesque rendition of the recurrent themes of alienation and loneliness he weaves into his narratives. He is also considered an important figure in postmodern literature. Steven Poole of The Guardian praised Murakami as "among the world's greatest living novelists" for his works and achievement.

In recent years, Haruki Murakami has often been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Nonetheless, since all nomination records are sealed for 50 years from the awarding of the prize, it is pure speculation. When asked about the possibility of being awarded the Nobel Prize, Murakami responded with a laugh saying "No, I don't want prizes. That means you're finished.

Recognition / Awards
1982 - Noma Literary Prize for A Wild Sheep Chase.
1985 - Tanizaki Prize for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
1995 - Yomiuri Prize for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
2006 - World Fantasy Award for Kafka on the Shore.
2006 - Franz Kafka Prize
2007 - Kiriyama Prize for Fiction
2007 - honorary doctorate, University of Liege
2008 - honorary doctorate, Princeton University
2009 - Jerusalem Prize
2011 - International Catalunya Prize
2014 - honorary doctorate, Tufts University

Controversy
The Jerusalam Award is presented a biennially to writers whose work deals with themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. When Murakami won the award in 2009, protests erupted in Japan and elsewhere against his attending the award ceremony in Israel, including threats to boycott his work as a response against Israel's recent bombing of Gaza. Murakami chose to attend the ceremony, but gave a speech to the gathered Israeli dignitaries harshly criticizing Israeli policies. Murakami said, "Each of us possesses a tangible living soul. The system has no such thing. We must not allow the system to exploit us."

Murakami donated his €80,000 winnings from the Generalitat of Catalunya (won in 2011) to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, and to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Accepting the award, he said in his speech that the situation at the Fukushima plant was "the second major nuclear disaster that the Japanese people have experienced... however, this time it was not a bomb being dropped upon us, but a mistake committed by our very own hands." According to Murakami, the Japanese people should have rejected nuclear power after having "learned through the sacrifice of the hibakusha just how badly radiation leaves scars on the world and human wellbeing." (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/19/2014.)



Book Reviews
Some novelists hold a mirror up to the world and some, like Haruki Murakami, use the mirror as a portal to a universe hidden beyond it.… He builds his self-contained world deliberately and faithfully, developing intrigue and suspense and even taking care to give each chapter a cliffhanger ending as in an old-fashioned serialized novel.… When you’re under Mr. Murakami’s trance you’re likely to keep flipping the pages.
Wall Street Journal


More of Murakami’s magical mist, but its size, beauty, and concerns with lust and war bring us back to the vividness and scale of his 1997 epic, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
Boston Globe


Eccentric and intriguing, Killing Commendatore is the product of a singular imagination..… Murakami is a wiz at melding the mundane with the surreal.… He has a way of imbuing the supernatural with uncommon urgency. His placid narrative voice belies the utter strangeness of his plot.… The worldview of Murakami’s novels is consistent, and it’s invigorating. In this book and many that came before it, he urges us to embrace the unusual, accept the unpredictable.
San Francisco Chronicle
 

Wild, thrilling.… Murakami is a master storyteller and he knows how to keep us hooked.
Sunday Times (UK)


Yes, there are mysterious portals, a strange world, a journey and a quest, but these elements are relatively minor in both scale and import in a novel that is more concerned with utterly human concerns, including aging, love, parentage, marriage, and what it means to be both a man and an adult. The fantastic elements are just a part of the narrator’s journey, the meaning and significance of which emerge only gradually for reader and narrator alike.
Toronto Star


[Killing Commendatore] marks the return of a master.
Esquire
 

No ordinary trip; get ready for a wild ride.
Entertainment Weekly


[A] meticulous yet gripping novel whose escalating surreal tone complements the author’s tight focus on the domestic and the mundane.… Murakami’s sense of humor helps balance the otherworldly and the prosaic, making this a consistently rewarding novel.
Publishers Weekly


While readers are kept guessing at what it all means, Murakami takes his time, slyly amusing us as he goes along. Verdict: Those familiar with the author's inventive writing will certainly devour this, as will readers seeking challenging and thoughtful fiction. —Stephen Schmidt, Greenwich Lib., CT
Library Journal


[A] sprawling epic of art, dislocation, and secrets.… requir[ing] heroic suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part. Altogether bizarre—and pleasingly beguiling, if demanding. Not the book for readers new to Murakami but likely to satisfy longtime fans.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
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" (242). 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 (200). 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 yogether?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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