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Booker International Longlist 2022 – Heaven


Heaven by Mieko Kawakami Translated by Samuel Bett David Boyd

Book 3

Reviewed by Rachel & Tracy

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: Told through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy subjected to relentless bullying, this is a haunting novel of the threat of violence that can stalk our teenage years. Translated by Samuel Bett and David Boyd.

Instead of putting up resistance, the boy suffers in complete resignation. His sole ally is a girl classmate, similarly outcast and preyed upon by the bullies. They meet in secret to take solace in each other’s company, unaware that their relationship has not gone unnoticed by their tormentors…

Mieko Kawakami’s deceptively simple yet profound work stands as a testament to her remarkable literary talent. Here, she asks us to question the fate of the meek in a society that favours the strong, and the lengths to which even children will go in their learnt cruelty.

Rachel’s Thoughts:  This was NOT an easy read. Two isolated middle-school students, both relentlessly bullied by their classmates, form a friendship of sorts. Through letters and conversations they explore why they’re bullied, why their bullies act as they do, and why they themselves respond as they do. The story is incredibly claustrophobic and bleak – in the main characters’ minds there is no alternative, no way out, no hope of anything changing.

I listened on audio, which may not have been the best format – I didn’t always believe the philosophising and felt quite detached from the characters. Without doubt, the story is effective – it’s so uncomfortable, so graphic, you spend a lot of time wanting to look away – which may well be the point. With the ending, I think it’s crying out to be a book club read – what happens to Kojima?; does the main character’s decision change anything?; but mostly Why?

Although I can understand why this made the longlist, I’m afraid I need a little hope in my novels at this point in time (and possibly always). This was a ‘not-for-me’.

Writing Quality 3.5/5
Originality 3.5/5
Plot 3/4
Character Development 3/4
Enjoyment 0.5/2
Total 13.5/20

Tracy’s Thoughts:  This book. It took me back to childhood, and not in a good way. The bullying was realistic and painful to read. 

But it was the friendship between the unnamed narrator and Kojima, united in their fear of the bullies, that shines so bright. Their shared experiences and philosophies about life are, at once, childlike and erudite. And yet, aren’t children better at calling it like it is? 

This is one of the better books on the list, and it absolutely deserves to be shortlisted. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2 
Total: 19.5/20

Elena Knows 18.25
Heaven 16.5
Happy Stories, Mostly 16

Have you read this one? Let us know your thoughts.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I haven’t read this and not sure I can deal with the experience of reading it, the triggers of being a parent whose children were bullied, still too fresh and living with the consequences. Not sure how this could be redeemed, bravo to her for tackling it.


    March 25, 2022
  2. Thanks for the review. Not for me.


    April 3, 2022

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