But I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I guess I was crying because we had nowhere else to go, no choice but to go on living in this world. Crying because we had no other world to choose, and crying at everything before us, everything around us.– Heaven
Summary and Thoughts
Hailed as a bold foray into new literary territory, Kawakami’s novel is told in the voice of a 14-year-old student who subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy chooses to suffer 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 tormentors.
These raw and realistic portrayals of bullying are counterbalanced by textured exposition of the philosophical and religious debates concerning violence to which the weak are subjected.
I loved Kawakami’s previous book, Breasts & Eggs, so when I found out her 2009 novel Heaven was being translated, I immediately added it to my to-read list. Heaven is about 180 pages, a short read that I consumed in two days. Still, despite its brevity, it packs a lot of ideas and emotions within its condensed narrative. There are four primary characters, two bullies and two bullied children. Investigating power dynamics, the concepts of weakness vs. power, heaven vs. hell, human will vs. morality, the novel reads more like a philosophical debate rather than a story, and the child characters’ speech mirrors that. As a result, while I appreciated the concepts Kawakami explored, I didn’t find the characters or story particularly memorable. Still, her writing is beautiful – precise and visual – and her pacing, weaving of narrative threads, and descriptions were well executed. Though I’d definitely recommend Heaven to others, I’d do so selectively, as I can see some readers being underwhelmed by the balance of philosophy and plot.
For Those Who Enjoyed
- Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
- Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki