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 Sam 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.


The 2022 International Booker Prize
Published by
Picador, Pan Macmillan
Publication date

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Mieko Kawakami

Mieko Kawakami

About the Author

Mieko Kawakami was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2022. She made her literary debut as a poet in 2006, and published her first novella, My Ego, My Teeth and the World, in 2007.
More about Mieko Kawakami
Sam Bett

Sam Bett

About the Translator

Sam Bett is a writer and translator of Japanese who, with David Boyd, is co-translating the novels of Mieko Kawakami for Europa Editions.
More about Sam Bett
David Boyd

David Boyd

About the Translator

David Boyd is Assistant Professor of Japanese at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in the USA.
More about David Boyd

Mieko Kawakami on Heaven

‘As a writer, I feel it is necessary to forcefully write the extreme about good or evil. If I can portray a moment with full intensity, whatever the subject may be, the reader will come face to face with the strong light that is born in that moment, as well as its dark shadow. 

‘Hope exists not only in happy stories where everyone feels safe. And despair is found not only in tragedies. Whatever shape they take, it is in the experience of coming into contact with extreme expressions that shakes the very foundation of what we consider right and wrong, our values, and our sensibilities. It opens the door to another world, even outside of books. I believe that it is my mission to continue to write works that provide such experiences.’

Read the full interview here.

Mieko Kawakami, author of Heaven

Having my work translated for the English-speaking world feels like going home, the same as always, and opening the door to find all these people there: someone who feels like an old friend even though we’ve never

— Mieko Kawakami, author of Heaven

What the judges said

‘An intense, claustrophobic novel, Heaven uses its tale of middle school bullying to enact Nietzsche’s critique of morality.’

What the critics said

Lily Meyer, NPR

Heaven is a raw, painful, and tender portrait of adolescent misery, reminiscent of both Elena Ferrante’s fiction and Bo Burnham’s 2018 film Eighth Grade. I cannot, in good conscience, endorse it without a warning: This book is very likely to make you cry […] If Kawakami were a more conventional or sentimental writer, Kojima would be the narrator’s first love. Instead, she occupies a blurrier space in his life: Their friendship is intermittent and baffling, rooted less in their personal connection than in Kojima’s brittle teenage idealism.’

Alison Fincher, Asian Review of Books

Heaven is excruciating. Readers share viscerally in the protagonist’s victimization at the hands of sadistic bullies […] Heaven’s bullying is all the more real to the reader because of Kawakami’s descriptions, vividly rendered into English by translators Sam Bett and David Boyd.’

Elaine Margolin, World Literature Today

‘The author’s ability to mimic the rhythmic disturbances of a teenage mind is mesmerizing; she is a master of the interior voice. She instinctively grasps how one can feel silly and light one moment and be in the throes of anguish the next […] Kawakami keeps a cool control over her protagonist, allowing him some leeway but never permitting him to see the promised land of adult perception, freedom, and reflection. There is something about her prose that is so immediate and pressing it blocks out the future almost as if it were a threatening force.’

Gina Isabel Rodriguez, Harvard Review

‘Though the monologues in Heaven investigate the human condition, they aren’t dry. They ground the novel in the messy rawness of adolescence […] Kojima is unpolished, and sometimes even frustratingly imprecise, but the vulnerability in these conversations cements this friendship as once-in-a-lifetime. And the certainty and passion in Kojima’s voice fascinates. She is resilient, making her a perfect foil for a narrator convinced of his own weakness. Heaven provokes both contemplation and instinctual dread.’

Katie Goh, The Skinny

Heaven’s exploration of casual cruelty won’t be for everyone—there are passages which rival Stephen King in their depiction of young characters’ depravity—but the short novel is a poignant and unsettling look at what makes a friendship and, on a macro level, what makes an unequal society. Kawakami’s writing is meticulous and assured, and Heaven leaves a bruise.’