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.
Sophie Baker manages the translation rights for Heaven
Translation Rights Sold
Heaven (Picador), is a brilliant rejoinder to my reticence. This captivating, quietly devastating book is about the relationship between two school misfits. The same vulnerabilities that expose them to their tormentors allow them to see one another with a pure sort of attention.
"Impeccably translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, the book is full of masterly set pieces of violence, scenes of senseless bullying so lucid you can almost feel the pain yourself.....the dissonances of the novel align into perfect vision for the breathtaking ending, which is an argument in favor of meaning, of beauty, of life. It is rare for a writer as complex as Kawakami to be so unafraid of closure, to be as capable of satisfying, profound resolution. But then again, to read her work is to feel that she is not afraid of anything at all."
New York Times Book Review
"Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I've been suffering from a reading funk. My concentration is bad; my commitment, worse. I blame the world, not the books, but I do feel especially grateful to the writers whose novels broke through my mental clouds. First on that list is the Japanese novelist Mieko Kawakami, whose English-language debut, Breasts and Eggs, was one of my favorite books of 2020. I wasn't alone; Breasts and Eggs, in Sam Bett and David Boyd's seamless rendering, was a breakaway hit. No wonder Kawakami's U.S. publisher, the reliably excellent Europa Editions, chased it so quickly with another Bett-Boyd co-translation, this time of Kawakami's 2016 novel Heaven, which, once again, cut straight through my funk.
Heaven is a raw, painful, and tender portrait of adolescent misery, reminiscent of both Elena Ferrante's fiction and Bo Burnham's 2018 film Eighth Grade. I cannot, in good conscience, endorse it without a warning: This book is very likely to make you cry."
“Heaven” also models a rigorous and elegant process of inquiry that can transcend its pared-down fictional world. It agitates against the enduring idea that the best novels concern themselves with the singular minds and manners of people, offering no resources for the political and moral demands of “real life.”
The New Yorker
“In novels, as in life, few things are more annoying than irresolution, the need to keep our thought moving rather than lay it to rest. This is the real magic of “Heaven,” which shows us how to think about morality as an ongoing, dramatic activity. It can be maddening and ruinous and isolating. But it can also be shared, enlivened through writing and conversation, and momentarily redeemed through unheroic acts of solidarity, which come more naturally to the children in “Heaven” than to most grownups here on earth.”
The New Yorker
Sam Bett and David Boyd have translated Kawakami's novel into richly polychromatic English, bringing out her pitch-perfect dialogue and the lyricism of her descriptive language: rain falls like 'a numb static rising from the inner depths of town'. Heaven is a thoughtful novel about the value of the flaws that make us who we are.
Heaven is told with astonishing frankness and economy. It will cut through all your defences down to every layer of fear, isolation, hope and need you’ve ever felt. The central pair of fourteen year old outcasts reckon with pain, belonging and the search for meaning in a way that’s heartbreaking and compelling. Mieko Kawakami is a genius.
An expertly told, deeply unsettling tale of adolescent violence
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.
Reading Heaven is a rare, unforgettable experience. For me this is a perfect novel, and one I know I will return to before long.
Short but assured ... By the end, the reader is so dizzily absorbed in its visceral details and philosophical complexity that, when the twist comes, it hits you with a strange and unexpected force.
It is difficult to write young voices well: easy to forget how smart teenagers are, or to portray them in terms of what adults might wish for them. Mieko Kawakami, however, is adept at understanding their perspective and capturing the despair and intractability of those difficult years ... As with Kawakami's previously translated work, Breasts and Eggs, this is an adroit novel of real feeling and insight from a writer who wants her readers to think for themselves.
Mieko Kawakami pulls from the all too familiar places we learn to accept as normal in our youth and gives them to us to reflect on as adults in a painful yet necessary way. Even if we could never learn the absolute truths behind humans' capacity for violence as well as empathy, we are certainly closer now with Heaven.