Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022
From the bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs and international literary sensation Mieko Kawakami comes a sharp and illuminating novel about a fourteen-year-old boy subjected to relentless bullying.
In Heaven, a fourteen-year-old boy is tormented for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, he chooses to suffer in silence. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate, Kojima, who experiences similar treatment at the hands of her bullies. Providing each other with immeasurable consolation at a time in their lives when they need it most, the two young friends grow closer than ever. But what, ultimately, is the nature of a friendship when your shared bond is terror?
Unflinching yet tender, sharply observed, intimate and multi-layered, this simple yet profound novel stands as yet another dazzling testament to Mieko Kawakami’s uncontainable talent. There can be little doubt that it has cemented her reputation as one of the most important young authors at work today.
TIME's 100 Must-Read Books of 2021.
'Mieko Kawakami is a genius' - Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times
'An expertly told, deeply unsettling tale of adolescent violence' - Vogue
Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd.
Kawakami (Breasts and Eggs) returns with a searing account of bullying and adolescent angst. In the vast, violent wasteland of middle school, the 14-year-old unnamed narrator endures horrific physical abuse from a group of sadistic classmates, assuming it's due to his lazy eye. In graphic detail, Kawakami describes the escalating harm brought to him, from his being made to ingest toilet water, a goldfish, and scraps of food from a pet rabbit's cage, to having chalk stuffed up his nose, being shoved into a locker, and an excruciatingly brutal confrontation in a gym, leaving him with the heartbreaking "desire to disappear." When he receives an anonymous note in his desk seeking friendship, he suspects it's a prank, but discovers it's from a female schoolmate who is also being humiliated. They meet in the school stairwell to share stories and later take summer excursions out of town, and suffer a stunning final encounter with their adversaries, during which one of the culprits explains the unexpected and startling reasons behind the attacks. This incident is particularly harrowing, and Kawakami unflinchingly takes the reader through the abyss of depraved, dehumanizing behavior with keen psychological insight, brilliant sensitivity, and compassionate understanding. With this, the author's star continues to rise.
A truly wild ride from start to finish
I didn’t know what to expect with this book, but I went in not knowing very much and having made the choice not to seek any external information out. I’m glad I did! A story that seems so simple in description, blossoms to become more than the sum of its parts.
I found this to be a really interesting look at an ever existing issue in Japan and really, around the world. Kids traverse their corners of the world in a microcosm that seems bigger on the inside than out, trying to work out who they are and what life means whilst unfortunately, sometimes simultaneously at the mercy of other kids. We all know that it’s hard enough to get through teenage years without jerky, temperamental walking extra factors in the form of other people’s kids!
This book takes a look at bullying from a child’s point of view, but tries to offer something other than the kneejerk black and white view; we all know that it’s not acceptable, but Heaven looks at and offers one of many answers as to the the objective, the ‘how’ of the origin.
Subjugation is a very real and present thing within humanity, and it’s a sore, raw truth that we try not to think about as it so fundamentally permeates all of our societies down to the bones(take for example, the Stanford Prison experiment, various abuses of power almost daily, etc etc) and I find that Heaven tries to take us briefly away from so much of the ‘why’ (because... humans, unfortunately.) and more towards the intricacies as well as confronting its inevitability in a world such as we know ours to be today. It’s also a very tentative, grounded look at interpersonal relationships born amid pain and the course that relationships formed in those things can sometimes take.
I’d definitely recommend, though if it’s helpful to know ahead of time—maybe line up a nice, wholesome read for your next book after this, as I personally finished it in a day. It felt like reading a really good, concise thought experiment as well as looking at the world through youthful eyes as we examine that kind of agony and what it might mean, or look like. How far does solace go, and what happens if you create your whole idea of a person around a feeling? It comes off to me as a love it or hate it title, but I know that Murakami fans will appreciate it!