Mieko Kawakami is a poet and singer, she even worked in an appliance store and is considered the new literary star of Japan.
Haruki Murakamithe eternal candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, confessed that reading it for the first time produced “pure astonishment.” The Economist has dubbed her “Japan’s new literary star,” The New York Times elevated her to “feminist icon” after her bestseller international breasts and balls and his novel Heaven She was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2022. But Mieko Kawakami (Osaka, 1976) shakes off the labels.
The first: “I’m a little scared that they’ll say that I’m the new representative of Japanese literature because it’s not like that”. The second: “I don’t like being pigeonholed as a feminist writer because I don’t like being put in a category” (“I do human literature”, she specifies). And, certainly, hers is an unclassifiable trajectory, one that defies any convention and moves away from what would be expected of an author who made her literary debut as a poet back in 2006.
Because Kawakami is a writer, but also a singer, and before that she was behind the counter of an electrical appliance store and the counter of a bar.
“My story is surely unusual”, he admits between laughs and, seriously, asks: “In Spain are the writers all university students?” It is that she has always been struck by what her colleagues in the United States tell her, where it seems that one can hardly get off the beaten path: “They go to a writing course at the university, they look for an agent… If they don’t “It is very difficult to be a writer. Of course, it is a profession to which the poor cannot aspire.”
And it is said by someone who, on top of that, compares his creative process with something as childish, sticky and delicious as cotton candy. She composes lyrics (with or without music) by twirling the rod. “I pick up a theme, ideas come to me, I think about the scenes… and that grows big and swells, taking shape like cotton candy.”
We interviewed Kawakami via Zoom on the occasion of the publication in Spain of his novel Heaven(Seix Barral), a heartbreaking story of bullying seen through the eyes of his two victims: two teenagers who discover themselves as friends by sharing the pain and questions about the violence of their peers. Kawakami’s sugar turned out not to be sweet.
He declares himself a fan of Murakami: “Although we are about 30 years apart, the important thing I learned from him, but I’m trying to do something different.” His style, in fact, plays little or nothing with the surrealism of the renowned Japanese writer. His is about serving raw reality (unsweetened, of course). “My intention is not to express what Japan is but to convey the essence of the human being. And the loneliness of life is what we share throughout the world.”
Like the one that unites these two students in Heaven, for whom friendship is summed up in cleaning together their own blood spilled in the gym to please their stalkers. After the blows, you have to mop the floor to erase the traces of the crime, to hide the fact that one of the two has been kicked in the head as if it were a ball. That is his loneliness.
The protagonist victim of humiliation lives it like this: “Probably those tears were due to the fact that we had nowhere to go and we could only live in that world in that way. They were tears caused by the real fact that there was no other world.” to choose. They were tears for everything, for absolutely everything that existed”.
For Kawakami, “where there is a very strong light, there can also be shadows”. “It’s an important thing in my stories: if you want to write about light, you need shadows, and if you want to write about shadows, you need light.” In Heaven, friendship and violence are inseparable from each other. Violence makes friends: among those who suffer it and among those who use it.
The author reflects on why it is so widespread among young people. “In the case of Japan, I think she has to do with despair. Japan is a rich country but it has no hope. The patriarchy is a disaster, there is too much inequality and the young are lost. They don’t know how they have to live. Some are dedicated to stealing and perhaps they consider it a kind of revolution. They’re doing a bit of Robin Hood. We’ve come to that point.”
There is a passage in the book that drew special attention in his country: the dialogue between the victim and one of his tormentors, in which the latter explains his own reasons for being so. “It doesn’t make sense. But what’s wrong with not having it? If the good is just that.” The nonsense of violence is what gives meaning to violence. According to the author, “the stalker talks about violence as if it were his hobby; It’s unfair, but it’s the reality.”
The search for that meaning is what devours those who do not understand why cruelty is so merciful with them. For her friend, the other victim of the bullying, there is no more explanation than the divine one: “There must be a god who sees absolutely everything and who, in the end, gives meaning to everything we have suffered, to everything we have endured.” Light is darkness.
Kawakami chooses this young woman, Kojima, to give shape to another of the ideas that hovers over her work: the pressure on the female body. In the case of the adolescent victim of abuse, it is she who chooses to stop eating as a way of being and respond to a world that does not understand her. Once again, the author emphasizes that it is a subject with which her readers from all over the world feel identified. Now she points an accusing finger at her own country: “Feminism in Japan is something totally foreign to a part of society”.
“Politicians are still men. The economy is still in the hands of men. And the best way to survive as a woman is to like a man. That is the most probable option to achieve happiness”, laments Kawakami, who denounces that in Japan the mentality that a woman who fixes herself does so “to find a man who maintains her” is still ingrained. “Many women aspire to be housewives because, in Japan, the more you work, the worse your health is.”
Kawakami has a hard time stopping. Machismo sneaks into any corner: “In Japanese, the word husband literally means love. This already tells us a lot about what Japanese culture is like,” he says. How else to understand a country that takes 11 years to authorize the morning-after pill and only a few months to give Viagra a free pass?, he wonders. “It’s a pass for grandparents That is why no one has children anymore, they cannot be raised in this environment. Men don’t know what it means to educate a child either, so when they talk about conciliation they only say nonsense.”
Kawakami’s speech goes even further to dismantle the image that tends to transcend the Asian country, starting with that of technological progress: “In Japan there is the feeling that there is no longer innovation. There was a time when we were creative, but now Korea or China are winning the game and Japan is going to become a country for tourists.” Kawakami, raw.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism