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Is Heaven just another word for nothing left to lose?

For our book club this month we read Mieko Kawakami's Heaven.

The story of malicious school bullying endured by two fourteen-year-old students, one boy and one girl, in Japan, Heaven is a dark montage of the physical and psychological damage bullying inflicts. But it is not just a study of bullying. Rather, it delves into the souls of these two young people and how they handle life as it is dealt them.

A pivotal scene occurs when the youngsters make a furtive trip to an art museum that houses a painting with the title "Heaven," the favorite painting of the female protagonist. She explains what she loves about the piece of art to her friend:

"Heaven is a painting of two lovers eating cake in a room with a red carpet and a table. It's so beautiful. And what's really cool is they can stretch their necks however they want. Wherever they go, whatever they do, nothing ever comes between them. Isn't that the best?"

When her friend presses her to explain what she means, the girl adds these details.

Something really painful happened to them. Something really, really sad. But know what? They made it through. That's why they can live in perfect harmony. After everything, after all the pain, they made it here. It looks like a normal room, but it's really Heaven.

This notion that things look like a normal room but are really heaven is the novel's literary jumping-off point, as well as the starting point for any discussion of the book.

Wherever that discussion takes you, it's worth the trip.

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