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Once Removedby Mako Yoshikawa
Reading Group Guide
A stirring portrait of two stepsisters and the remarkable family histories that brought them together, Once Removed inspires compelling conversations about the nature of soul mates and the ironies of fate. Estranged for more than a decade, Claudia Klein and Rei Watanabe have found their way back to each other in the midst of challenging turning points. Bound by remembrance and childhood, they must now navigate the crossroads of illness, a precarious love affair, and their parents’ secrets. Unfolding in a series of evocative recollections and arresting contemporary scenes, Once Removed is an exceptional tale of two families, two cultures, and the connection between two women that survives the betrayals of those around them.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Mako Yoshikawa’s Once Removed. We hope they will enrich your experience of this moving novel.
Also available as a Bantam ebook 0-553-89764-0
1. The novel begins and ends with images of Claudia and Vikrum. In what way does their relationship form an appropriate backdrop for the novel’s other narratives?
2. What is the effect of the shifting points of view? Do these various perspectives mirror or conflict with one another?
3. Rei’s storytelling ability enchanted Claudia. How would you characterize her stories? Do they share any common threads? What is the significance of language in her capacity to remember, and to preserve her mother’s memories?
4. Rosie and Hana appear to have many distinctions, especially in terms of career (mathematician versus artist) and cultural outlook. What drew Henry to each of them? What kept him from remaining committed to them?
5. Mako Yoshikawa includes vivid scenes of going through customs. How do the seemingly mundane items mentioned in these passages, the radish and the dragonfly in particular, garner their tremendous emotional significance? What metaphors can be drawn from the process of crossing these borderlines?
6. What determines the alliances within your own family? Which relative is your most trusted confidant, and how was that bond formed?
7. In what way do the novel’s characters embody various time periods, from the final chapters of World War II to the social awakenings of the 1970s and the dilemmas of contemporary life?
8. What shapes Rei’s perception of her father? How do his absence and Henry’s presence impact her attitudes toward love and family?
9. Toward the end of chapter eleven, Yoshikawa asks, “So was it the fact that happiness lay in choosing love over a more glamorous match—that love, which might just be life’s ultimate goal, was captured by Hana only because she could see that the handsome, glamorous Emperor-in-waiting offered less than the banker with the oddly mismatched face?” Though the author then underscores the rhetorical nature of this question, she has made an important observation about the quandaries imposed by social pressure. What empowers so many of the novel’s characters to make bold sacrifices for love?
10. Why did Claudia reject Hana’s warmth for so long? What determines whether stepfamilies will experience such tensions?
11. Why wasn’t Henry able to have more compassion for Hana when he discovered her medical file? How does he define honesty and integrity?
12. In what way does Rei’s illness lead to emotional healing for her family? Can Hana accept that the melanoma’s onset was beyond anyone’s control?
13. How would you have responded to Vikrum’s ring? Is Claudia’s decision a liberating one, or does it trap her in a generational cycle?
14. What transformations occur as a result of Claudia’s reunion with Rei? What do you predict for their future as a family?
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