Our NCW Book Club choice during June and July 2022 is Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd. We hope you’ll join us in reading the book, and that you’ll join the discussion in one of our friendly sessions taking place online and in person.

Kawakami’s second novel to be published in English translation is a coming of age story that cuts to the heart of adolescent experience and ethical questions about free choice, violence and what it means to be strong. While the book addresses some distressing topics, it’s also a story of friendship and finding one’s own power.

Here are some questions that you might like to consider or discuss with friends, family and fellow members of the Book Club as you make your way through the book.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Heaven, and any other questions that the book sparks for you. See our post here to find out about all the different ways you can get involved. 

Heaven can be purchased from our friends at The Book Hive with 20% off the cover price, and there’s still plenty of time to read along with us!

Happy reading!

What does it mean that we read this book in translation? Are you able to identify any sense of the Japanese original in the language or story? Either way, what impact does this have on your experience of reading the book?

What would you say the key themes of the book are? How do you feel it presents issues such as friendship, growing up, bodies, strength and weakness, free choice, society and family?

What would you say the key themes of the book are?

We never learn the narrator’s real name – only his cruel nickname, Eyes. What does this mean for our relationship to him as the protagonist of the book? What sense do you have of Eyes’ character, and how does his point of view affect the telling of the story?

What are the strengths and constraints of writing a teenaged narrator? Why do you think Mieko Kawakami has chosen a younger narrator for this story, and what does it allow her to do artistically?

Does a story being about teenaged characters automatically make it a “young adult” book? What similarities or differences can you identify between Heaven and novels for young adults, or for adults? 

What similarities or differences can you identify between Heaven and novels for young adults?

Adult characters in the story are characterised by their absence – Eyes’ father is rarely home, his teachers never acknowledge or intervene in the bullying he experiences, and even his step-mother seems oddly detached. Why might this be? How does the absence of adult characters play out in the novel?

Kojima reveals that she walks through the world showing various “signs” that give her a sense of connection to her father. Are there any signs or motifs that you can find in the book that structure the narrative and foreshadow future plot points?

Eyes has an extraordinary conversation with Momose, one of the bullies, when they bump into each other at the hospital. This scene stages one of the ethical questions of the book – why are some people bullied, and other people bullies? What is your reaction to Momose’s theory on this point? Does the rest of the story prove him right, or prove him wrong? Why do you think Eyes confronts Momose about the bullying rather than the ringleader, Ninomiya?

Why are some people bullied, and other people bullies?

The climactic point of the narrative sees Kojima using the power of laughter while in a dangerous situation. What does it mean that she uses laughter in this situation? Do you feel that Kojima triumphs in this scene? What about Eyes – what changes for him in this scene?

Eyes, and we as the reader, never see the painting that Kojima describes as “heaven”. What effect does it have that the book takes its title from something that doesn’t have a physical presence in the story?

The end of the book sees Eyes electing to make a change to his life. How do you feel about this ending? Do you think Eyes made the right choice?

Did these questions spark a reaction or an idea? Want to discuss it further? Join us for one of our book club meet-ups this month!

In-person book club, Wednesday 27 July, 6-7.30pm, NCW Dragon Hall →

Online book club, Friday 29 July, 6-7.30pm BST, Zoom →