Heaven
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Heaven

Mieko Kawakami

Hailed as a bold foray into new literary territory, Kawakami’s novel is told in the voice of a fourteen-year-old student subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy suffers in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormenters.

The young friends meet in secret in the hopes of avoiding any further attention and take solace in each other’s company, completely unaware that their relationship has not gone unnoticed by their bullies …

Kawakami’s simple yet profound new work stands as a dazzling testament to her literary talent. Here, she asks us to question the fate of the meek in a society that favours the strong, and the lengths that even children will go in their learned cruelty. There can be little doubt that it has cemented her reputation as one of the most important young authors working to expand the boundaries of contemporary Japanese literature.

Review

Mieko Kawakami is a rising star in the international literary world, revered for her stark prose and unflinching exploration of emotional discomfort, while displaying a deep sensitivity to her characters. Much like her last novel (Breasts and Eggs), Heaven is not for the faint of heart.

Set in present-day Japan, Heaven documents the uneasy and occasionally brutal lives of two teenagers, Eyes and Kojima, who are torturously bullied by their peers. Eyes (referred to as such thanks to a lazy eye, the self-diagnosed source of all his problems) and Kojima form an unlikely friendship based on their shared torment, and together decide that submission to these attacks is their only way to resist.

High in depraved spectacle yet filled with compassion and understanding, Heaven manages to both push the reader away while also pulling them closer, creating a richly layered analysis of social structures and the roles we may, unwillingly, play within them. It is not an easy read and several times I found myself needing a break to recover from a particularly grisly piece of bullying. It is not so much that the book is shocking in its depiction of physical violence, although there are moments of this, rather that Kawakami’s characters are created with such keen psychological insight that I often felt I was the one wearing the physical bruises and psychological scars.

To put it simply, Heaven is Kawakami’s best novel to date and one of the best I have read in recent memory. I find myself often reflecting on its characters during my own social interactions, reminding me of the power of kindness and the value of empathy.


Barney Pollock works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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