First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
From the bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs and international literary sensation Mieko Kawakami comes a sharp and illuminating novel about the impact of violence and the power of solidarity.
In Heaven, a fourteen-year-old boy is subjected to relentless torment 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 authors at work today.
And, cut! Another work week has come to a conclusion. I hope you had a great week and that you ended it on a high note. The weekends are waving! If you struggled during the week, I hope you find time to heal and relax this weekend. Before I forget, today is the last Friday of February. Wow. Time flies fast! In a couple of days, we will be welcoming the last month of the first quarter of 2022. Here in the Philippines, today also marks the 36th anniversary of the EDSA People Power. A peaceful initiative by the Filipinos, the movement ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ending the Martial Law and with it, its abuses. The movement helped reinstate democracy in the Philippines although, sadly, many have forgotten the spirit of EDSA, of why Filipinos took arms (not literally). In light of the historical revisionism that has become prevalent, I hope that the succeeding generations never forget the People Power.
That’s enough history lessons for today. Before I can have a blast, let me close the work week with a new First Impression Friday update. In the first two months of the year, I have been focusing on reading books published in 2021. I intended to read them towards the end of 2021 but because of time constraints, and the number of reading catch-ups I had to do, I was unable to read them. So far, my reading catch-up has been successful, if I may say so myself. The eclectic mix of books made sure that my mind is always occupied. I have read the works of unfamiliar names like Sara Nisha Adams and Rachel Cusk while reading the works of familiar names such as Colson Whitehead and Ruth Ozeki. This combination gave my reading journey a distinct texture. Another familiar name is Japan’s Mieko Kawakami, whose latest translated work, Heaven is my current read.
Originally published in Japanese in 2009 as Hevun, Heaven is my second novel by Kawakami. Her hugely popular novel, Breasts and Eggs was part of my 2021 reading journey. What initially surprised me about Heaven was its length. At just 167 pages, it was roughly a third of Breasts and Eggs. But then again, such quick reads are not uncommon in Japanese literature. The works of Yasunari Kawabata come to mind. At the heart of Heaven is an anonymous 14-year-old boy. He suffers from the “lazy eye” condition, wherein his eyes aim in different directions. Because of his condition, he was bullied by his fellow male students, led by Ninomiya. Ironically, Ninomiya was the class Ace – a good athlete and a straight-A student. The opening chapter detailed the bullying that the novel’s primary and anonymous narrator has received.
The main character’s life would soon change after he received a note that asked, or commanded, him to meet the note sender at a local park. Expecting Ninomiya or one of his ilk, he was surprised to see that the anonymous note sender was Kojima, one of his female classmates. As they started building their friendship, it wasn’t difficult to figure out why Kojima reached out to him. They were both victims of systemic class bullying. She was called Hazmat by their classmates. As someone who was bullied during high school, although not to the same extent that the main characters were bullied, I understand why they opted not to tell these incidents to their parents. What was abhorrent, however, was the silence of their classmates.
In Chapter Five, there was a deep rumination on why the two characters were being bullied although it does not fully address the issue. I am inclined to believe that later on in the story, there is a big revelatory scene, akin to an open forum where the bullied confront the bullies. This is the closest I see that the novel can be concluded. But then again, anything happens in literature, depending on how the author sees it. By the way, the book’s title was derived from a painting that Kojima named Heaven. For sure, the novel has a perversion to nicknaming and renaming.
I am halfway done with the book. I didn’t realize that I am less than 70 pages away from finishing it. Compared to Breasts and Eggs, I find the writing more fluid in Heaven. Breasts and Eggs lacked nuances of language. On another note, I hope that Mieko also addresses other concerns beyond bullying. How about you fellow reader? What book are you digging into the weekend? I hope you are enjoying it. For now, happy reading, and have a happy weekend!