1. How do the characters and plot express the archetypal symbol of the yin-yang? Which scenes play on the opposition or merging of cultures, East and West? Consider the yin and yang of Keiko, raised to be demur and yielding, traveling with her parents to Japan in search of an arranged marriage . . . how was her femininity and womanhood redefined by practicing with a warrior’s weapon, the naginata? Consider the yin and yang of Sam, raised to be a samurai, trained in the martial arts . . . and yet what did his final “tests” demand?
2. Discuss the theme of the collision between fantasy and reality, for example in the samurai jitterbug or the wedding night chapters. How do fantasy and reality color the different kinds of love experienced by the characters? How do the characters react when their dreams and expectations regarding romance bump into the limitations and awkwardness of real life? What do they learn, and how does it change them?
3. Discuss some of the deeper conflicts between philosophical ideals, like those expressed in the characters’ easily uttered words, and their subsequent hard-to-live reality. How are the characters shaped and driven by the theme of promises, kept and broken? By the adherence to the samurai code of honor vs. the demands of true love or the horrors of actual warfare? What aspects of Sam’s martial arts training prove most useful at the ravine and the cave or his visit to the temple? What is the cost of Al and Dewey’s loyalty and patriotism in their quest to rescue the Lost Battalion? What is the quality and nature of Sam’s loyalty, patriotism, and sense of honor and duty, juxtaposed against the atomic bombing of his mother and sister?
4. Consider the yin and yang of East and West. Explore the cultural differences and similarities in their definitions of love, home, enemy, loyalty and sacrifice. In what ways does being a good Japanese clash or harmonize with a character’s need to be a good American and vice versa?
5. Use ideas and scenes from the novel to illuminate how differing cultural demands have shaped your own life. Name your own ancestral origins. Then comparing yourself to the characters in the novel, identify some points where your ancestral cultural values conflict or mesh with the definitions and demands of where you now reside. If your ancestors’ nation, religious beliefs or cultural values were so at odds with (the USA or the country where you live) that you and your family were deemed undesirable aliens or a threat to national security, how would you feel? If the two countries you loved most were at war, and you were ordered to pack no more than two suitcases for yourself and each family member, to leave everything else behind, your car, your pets, your homes and businesses, to be sent to an undisclosed location to live for an unspecified length of time, how would you feel, and more importantly, what would you do?
6. If your friends or neighbors were the ones being targeted and sent away, how would feel, what would you do? Would your feelings and reactions depend on the nature and degree of the threat to the nation? At what point would you close your door and turn your back on your friends or neighbors? If you were drafted into the military during a war against the country where your mother and siblings lived, how would you feel? After the war, how might you feel about journeying home to face the surviving members of your family?
7. How do perseverance, acceptance and forgiveness shape the characters? Discuss the scenes in which compassion and forgiveness toward others or self open the gates to spiritual enlightenment.
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