Book: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Book: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Mieko Kawakami induced some sort of waking dream or nightmare state in this book for me.  The deep vibrant descriptions of bullying torture, too extreme for me to believe, left me feeling both the victim and the abuser.   Because especially with books this vivid about the difficult side of growing up triggers old emotions of the glee kids, yes including me teasing or bullying the weak and the total panic and fear of being stalked by the older kids on the playground.  Her descriptions go far beyond what I or thankfully my kids ever experienced, which left me somehow rejecting the possibility. And then she describes a news story of where a bullied child commits suicide and the public reacts as we do, with everything from denial to condemnation of individuals and society. But the book is really about why, the existential why and meaning, set in a pool of torture.

I felt trapped among realism, emotion and philosophy in the book. The protagonist is  known only to us as “Eyes,” the tag he is given by his abusers. His only friend Kojima and Eyes find commonality in being bullied.  She finds meaning in her ability to take the abuse without reaction. Eyes, does all he can to run but is caught again and again and brutalized in ways that we suppress if we’ve ever been subjected to this.  The different reactions to their shared terror in the end is also what rips their relationship apart.

The transition to philosophy happens two thirds of the way through the book as a mature surreal conversation between Eyes and Momose, one of his abusers.  It forced me to confront my own views as an adult.  Momose says his abuse is not about what is right and wrong.  The abuse is simply about his ability to do something because he wants to and the inability of Eyes to do anything about it because he is weak.  Momose proposes that all people are self-absorbed; he has no responsibility to Eyes, only to himself and whoever else his own personal values dictate.  Of course, he would be upset if his little sister was bullied but to Momose that is unrelated to his own bullying of Eyes.  It left me thinking that this is one of the more elegant commentaries on the hypocrisy of adult society.  It’s well personified in politics when one group is horrified, even “justifiably” at the actions of another side; but then in their own interests they will engage in exactly the same activity as though it is perfectly “moral.”  I was left wondering if she meant to take Niezsche to such an extreme, but I think it was different. Nietzsche’s thoughts on immorality were more around let’s not take the rough edges off society or we all become sand and become ridiculous. Kawakami’s  view is more around an assessment not of childhood brutality but of society made personal by tapping childhood.  It’s less the realism of that and more to me simply a commentary of how we remain terribly alone in ascribing meaning beyond to ourselves, and that expecting others to have an even complementary sense might be a hopeless expectation.  The realism is not in the specifics but in the contradictory emotions we feel in our own experiences maybe and understanding those on a higher level.

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