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Heaven: A Novel av Mieko Kawakami

Heaven: A Novel (urspr publ 2009; utgåvan 2021)

av Mieko Kawakami (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
967226,214 (3.84)3

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Mieko Kawakami’s 2009 novel Heaven has now been translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd and has been published in a Europa edition. It follows the success Kawakami enjoyed last year when her novel Breasts and Eggs became the first of her books to be published in English.

Because of its heartbreaking plot, Heaven is not an easy novel to read. It tells the story of two middle school students, one male and one female, who are so tormented and abused by their classmates that their lives are no longer their own. Everything that happens to the two of them is recounted by the unnamed boy who is being so badly bullied. He is the target of a small group of boys led by class favorite Ninomiya, a handsome, charismatic, but extremely cruel young man. Another gang member, a boy called Momose, is always around when our narrator is being bullied, but never gets his own hands dirty, preferring simply to stare from the outskirts of the action with a blank look on his face and his arms crossed.

“Without school, I could get by without seeing anyone or being seen by anyone. It was like being a piece of furniture in a room that nobody uses. I can’t express how safe it felt never being seen. I knew the peace could never last, but it was immensely comforting to know that, if I never left my room, no one in the world could lay a finger on me. The flip side was I had no way of engaging with the world, but that was how it had to be.” - Narrator

Kojima, a girl who comes to school everyday unwashed and having taken no care at all to her personal appearance, suffers a similar fate from a gang of girls who delight in tormenting her both emotionally and physically. She and the boy, despite their common suffering, have never acknowledged each other in the classroom, much less spoken about what is happening to them. Then one day, Kojima leaves an unsigned note hidden in the boy’s pencil case saying, “We should be friends.” The boy is almost certain that this is just another trick and that he is being set up for a new embarrassment at the hands of his bullies, but the notes keep coming and his curiosity keeps growing. Finally, more desperate for a friend than he knows, the boy agrees to meet the note-writer in the stairwell after school. And he and Kojima become each other’s only friend.

For the rest of the school year, through the summer, and into the new school year, the boy with the lazy eye and the “dirty” girl exchange letters and notes, and even meet occasionally to share their lives. They are still mercilessly bullied by their peers, but their lives are a little better for the friendship they share. But, of course, that will not be tolerated by either set of bullies when they finally figure out that Kojima and the boy have become friends behind their backs.

Bottom Line: Heaven is a disturbing novel that shines a spotlight on bullies and their victims. Kojima and the boy justify to themselves their own passiveness to everything they suffer, but the bullies sense their unwillingness to defend themselves and continue to escalate their cruelty. That is hard to watch, and I kept wondering where the adults were while all this was happening — realizing of course, that this kind of silent suffering at the hands of peers often goes unnoticed by parents and teachers until it is too late to do anything about it. This is a coming-of-age novel from Hell, and Hell would have, perhaps, been a more suitable title for this one than Heaven (the title has a specific meaning to the boy and the girl). ( )
  SamSattler | Oct 7, 2021 |
A young teenage boy is horrendously bullied in his middle school. Because of a lazy eye, he is regularly called “Eyes”. He thinks this is the reason he is picked on. A young teenage girl, Kojima, is also horribly bullied. Kojima sends the boy a series of short notes, convinced that they will become friends. And a friendship does develop, though they keep it entirely secret. Meanwhile the bullying continues in frighteningly violent ways. Kojima sees a kind of nobility in their suffering. The boy is not so sure. What does it all mean, he wonders. And this question of meaning comes to the boil when the boy confronts one of his persecutors, Momose. Momose professes an almost pure nihilism declaring that there is no meaning at all in the world. He doesn’t feel bad about what he does when picking on the boy because there is no such thing as good or bad. The boy defends the view that meaning infuses everything, perhaps convinced by Kojima. Their somewhat out-of-place and unresolved argument serves as the fulcrum of the novel. After this point the boy is less convinced of the virtue in his suffering. Moreover, Kojima suspects him of losing faith and her response is rejection. Nothing, however, prevents the continued bullying. But without their hidden solidarity it becomes much harder to cope. The decline reaches an unfortunate but perhaps predictable extreme. And then life changes again for the boy.

On the surface this is a novel about teen suffering with a scaffolding of conflicting philosophical worldviews lending it significance. Nevertheless, at some point the scaffolding becomes more substantial than that which it surrounds and it really does become a challenging novel of ideas. That the contrast between the views presented is so stark does not prevent a kind of subtlety to arise as the boy struggles to navigate through these waters. Periodically adults contribute to his thinking but ultimately the question remains open despite the near apotheosis of the boy’s “vision” at the end. As his doctor suggests in a different context, after one’s life changes one often cannot even remember what it was like previously. Perhaps.

Gently recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Jun 22, 2021 |
Heaven is a very different story to Mieko Kawakami’s last translated novel in English, but it shows that no matter what the content, her writing is brilliant. Heaven is shorter, almost novella length, but packs a strong punch. Set in a Japanese middle school, it tells the story of brutal bullying.

Eyes (we never find out his real name) has a lazy eye and accepts the bullying that comes his way every day. It’s the only way for him to endure the verbal and physical attacks at the hands of the most popular boys in his class. Outside of class, he sticks to his own company at home with an absent father and a well-meaning stepmother. Then he starts receiving notes suggesting friendship with an anonymous person. Eyes isn’t stupid and ignores them at first. But it turns out to be Kojima, who is bullied by other girls (and sometimes the same bullies as Eyes). They strike up a friendship in secret, writing notes to each other and meeting up in secret places. It’s an odd sort of friendship as Kojima is fiercely proud in what makes her a target for the bullies and encourages Eyes to do the same. It’s only when Eyes is physically attacked and needs hospital treatment that he realises that he could have his eye fixed. But Kojima is adamant that his lazy eye is what makes him special. Who is wrong and who is right? In an eerily graphic showdown, the bullied and the bullies meet and everything falls into place – but is it the right one?

One of the great things about Japanese fiction is its mysteriousness, and Heaven has it in spades. Although we know why Kojima and one of the bullies, Momose act the way they do, it’s up to the reader to make their own decisions as to other people’s actions. The leader of the bullies, Ninomiya, is seen to have it all (looks, athleticism and intelligence) but insists on making Eyes’ life hell. Likewise, we never find out all the details of Eyes’ family or what Kojima’s mother thinks of her deliberately not washing for weeks. The descriptions of the abuse suffered by Eyes and Kojima are graphic at times, and painful to see on the page. Kojima’s increased fervour to be different in the face of the bullies just as Eyes finds out he could be like everyone else shows the different trajectories of the response to the bullying – loss and hope. Kawakami manages to pack a lot of emotion and details into this relatively short novel, from despair to cautious optimism. The writing is pitch perfect, with just the right amount of distance between reader and narrator. The story is unsettling, but Kawakami’s prose makes it bearable.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the copy of this book. My review is honest.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Jun 5, 2021 |
I think that the theme of this novel is universally relatable (I think anyway, for anyone who ever went to high school/college), whether we were bullies, bullied, someone who stood up for others, or someone who avoided getting to know an unpopular kid in order to feel that we were not at the bottom of the social ladder. Mieko Kawakami doesn't examine all these perspectives, but focuses on the point of views of 4 main voices, all 14 year olds. In this way, I personally found that the narratives around bullying were a little undeveloped for an adult reader, and so at times I found the dialogue a little uninteresting. Although, the level of bullying is intense and, through this we witness the impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of our main characters, which is a strong message in itself.

I found that the characters were endearing in their sadness, and the exploration of their lives, and that I felt empathy towards them. In fact, I felt like I was trapped in the world of the main character, seeing everything through his eyes, his thoughts, and interactions with those around him, and Kojima, his only friend. This approach enhanced the feeling of solitude, and the preciousness of his friendship with Kojima. I felt that her character offered some interesting ideas about the "dynamics" of the relationship between bullies and their victims. While she creates her own way of revolting against the world, I wonder if her outlook seemed to more of an armour to help rationalise the situation.

I feel there is a reference here to the fact that previously in Japan, juvenile offenders were given such lenient sentences that they thought they could get away with questionable behavior, and I wondered if this was a reason why there was a reference to the action taking place in the 1990's, while the book was published in 2009. I know that bullying is often talked about as being a problem in Japan, but I don't know at what point it is better or worse than in other countries.

Anyway, worth the read! ( )
  Kiwi_des_neiges | May 18, 2021 |
HEAVEN is anything but a lighthearted coming-of-age-in-middle-school tale. Instead, it has the feel of a Stephen King horror story about children trapped in a nightmare filled with the threat of gratuitous violence. Kawakami raises some basic questions about teenage bullying. Who gets bullied? Why do some people torment others? Why do the victims tolerate it? Unfortunately, she offers few answers. Instead, she superficially jumps between a host of more subtle themes, including non-conformity, adolescent angst, breakdowns in familial communication, common issues around violence, and the limitations of societal norms for coping with cruelty and weakness.

Kawakami’s nameless 14-year-old protagonist is surrounded by silence at home from his stepmother and at school where no adult seems to be aware of or even care about his constant struggle with intense bullying. It is hard to see how these settings can be construed as even remotely heavenly. Instead, they seem more like a living hell. In the final analysis, Kawakami leaves this young man confused, isolated, vulnerable and exposed.

Kojima is a fellow traveler, who seeks to connect with the boy through a series of cryptic notes that eventually grow into a clandestine friendship. Her background resembles his—distant mother and absent father who has his own set of societal challenges. The teens bond in safe places with a shared sense of victimhood. Their conversations start by dancing around their experiences with bullying, but eventually address them directly. Neither seems to fully understand their predicament. The boy tries to make sense of his plight by attributing the bullying to his “lazy eye”, an explanation Kawakami seems ambivalent about accepting. When a kindly physician suggests that he get a rather simple procedure for his eye, the boy and Kojima are not so sure he should follow this advice since his eye is part of his identity. Kojima, on the other hand, has confusing thoughts about her own bullying experience reasoning that giving in actually is some form of resistance.

Kawakami’s plot seems simple enough. The bullying is unrelenting and escalates as the story moves forward. She is unflinching in her graphic depictions of the depravity, while also evoking insight and compassion depicted by Kojima and the doctor who treats the boy’s injuries. Despite this level of control, Kawakami’s narrative is not flawless. There seems to be much introspection with little resolution to show for it. The characters are all teenagers, yet they sound like worldly adults. Although not as gruesome as Stephen King’s prom scene in “Carrie,” the inevitable revenge is riveting. Yet, it may be too subtle to resolve much. Are the tormentors at bottom really only cowards or just displaying common teenage embarrassment by nudity? What were Kojima’s motivations for behaving as she does in this scene? In the final analysis, one wonders if Kawakami is saying that confrontation is the only viable solution to bullying? ( )
  ozzer | Apr 14, 2021 |
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