Synopses & Reviews
After spending sixteen years in prison for a crime of the heart, Shiro Kikutani is released into a world he no longer recognizes. He must readjust to the bright and vigorous stimulus of Tokyo while fending off his own dark memories. In a spare yet powerful style, Akira Yoshimura paints the psychology of a quiet man navigating his way through the unsuspected traumas of freedom-finding a job, finding a home, even something as simple as buying an alarm clock. Kikutani takes comfort in the numbing repetition of his new daily life, only to be drawn inexorably back to the scene of his crime. A subtly powerful story, On Parole explores the fragile life of a murderer and the conditions of freedom in an unforgiving society. Yoshimura's startling novel raises provocative questions of guilt and redemption.
A man murders his wife, wounds her lover, and sets the lover's home-with the lover's mother in it-on fire. Sixteen years later, 50-year-old Shiro Kikutani, a former high-school teacher serving a life sentence for this crime, is released. In jail, he had thought of nothing but freedom. His release, however, creates a series of obstacles for which he is not prepared. While he continually examines his conscience, he feels no remorse. On parole, he slowly begins to lead a normal life, and that life seems livable, until his new wife pressures him to express remorse he does not feel. Once again, Yoshimura has written a finely detailed, subtle, powerful story that explores the fragile life of a murderer and the quality of freedom in an unforgiving society.
About the Author
Akira Yoshimura is the prize-winning author of twenty novels and short-story collections, many of them bestsellers in Japan. One Man's Justice is his third novel to be translated into English.
Reading Group Guide
Q> In what ways is On Parole an investigation of the burdens of freedom and the risks of commitment? How does Yoshimura present those burdens and risks, in relation to Kikutani and others? Q> In what ways do uncertainty, bewilderment, and confusion continue in Kikutani's life after his years in prison? Why is he unable to overcome these impediments to a nor-mal life? Does this inability derive primarily from his years in prison or from his character, or from a combination of the two? Q> What experiences and details of modern life that we take for granted are completely new to Kikutani? How do his reactions prompt us to see details of everyday life in new ways? Why does Yoshimura single out these details? Q> Why is Kikutani unable to feel remorse for his two murders? Why is he, nevertheless, compelled to remember them in such tormenting detail? Standing at Mochizuki's mother's grave, why does he feel only a "sense of satisfaction.. .at having destroyed Mochizuki's house"? Q> To what extent does Kikutani's state of indefi-nite parole represent every person's predicament in living and functioning adequately-and with a full sense of self-worth-within society? To what extent do society's rules, by their very nature, preclude Kikutani's-or anyone's-ability to comply with them? How do we deal with the demands and constrictions of society? Q> One reviewer has noted that Kikutani's three pri-mary emotions are rage, fear, and numbness. What does he fear, and why? What, in terms of both the past and the present, prompts his rage, and why does it persist? How does he deal with his fears and his rage? What causes the numbness? Q> In what ways-and why-does Kikutani model his life outside of prison on his life within prison? Why does he have such difficulty in adapting to a life of freedom? In what ways does the chicken farm reflect the conditions of life in prison? Q> Afer his first nervous conversation with Koinuma, Kikutani feels that his past is "still coiled tightly about his heart,...waiting to destroy him." What indications are we given from this point on that his past may destroy him? What decisions and actions on his part shape his "in-evitable" fate? What might he have done differently? Q> Even more than three months after being paroled, Kikutani sees the outside world as an "emptiness" and quails before the "vast, borderless expanse known as society." Does he ever lose this sense of emptiness and this view of society? How can society be a "vast, borderless expanse" and, at the same time, a restrictive, rigidly ruled setting for one's life and work? Q> After seeing the "hotel woman" on his way back from the department store, Kikutani decides that "he needed to face squarely what he had done, what his crime meant." What efforts does he make to do so? Does he succeed or fail, and why? Q> Why does Kikutani return to his village and to the graves of his victims? What other meanings of laying his past to rest are open to him? Q> As he sits alone in the village shrine after his de-tailed recollection of the murders, Kikutani feels "a sudden resolve, a determination to stop hesitating and do things." How is this resolve related to the memory of the murders just narrated? In what ways, since his parole, has he been hesitating and not doing things? What are the results of this sudden resolve? Q> We are told that Kikutani's childhood aversion to pain, suffering, and violence persisted into his adult years. "But if he hated blood and suffering so much, why had he been so calm and collected as he stabbed his wife to death?" How would you answer that question? What was the "unknown element" that "seemed to lurk inside him" and "manifested itself in the red haze"? Q> When he returns to the drastically transformed fishing village of Urayasu, Kikutani has "the unsettling feeling that he had come to some foreign territory." To what extent is his sense of entering a foreign territory the consequence of external changes and to what extent is it the consequence of his crime, of his separating himself from everyday, normal life? Q> What correspondence does Yoshimura show, explic-itly or implicitly, among prison life, life as a parolee, and normal everyday life? Q> What role does loneliness play in Kikutani's life, from his childhood through the present? Q> Why does Yoshimura provide so much information about the wholesale egg industry? Q> "They say you committed a crime," Kiyoura says to Kikutani, "but one could almost say instead that the crime happened to you." He then presents his theory of the law and societal rules. To what extent do you agree or disagree with Kiyoura's view of crime, the law, imprisonment, and pa-role and his attitude toward Kikutani and other parolees? Does Kikutani, as a man who committed two murders and feels no remorse for those murders, deserve the opportunity to become a member of society again? Q> As Toyoko persists in her plans for Kikutani's expression of remorse and his redemption, "he wanted to scream, to tell her not to do this." Why doesn't he tell her not to do it? Why doesn't he tell her how he feels and what he thinks? Is this failure linked back in any way to his relationship with Emiko and her murder? Q> After killing Toyoko, Kikutani weeps "as the words of the court finding came back to him: 'a momentary homicidal frenzy.'... It was simply fate, something over which he had no control." To what extent is this true? What does Yoshimura seem to be saying about the role of fate and per-sonal choices in individual lives? Copyright (c) 2000. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc. Written by Hal Hager & Associates, Samerville, New Jersey