There is a growing interest in a behavioral phenomenon the Internet has dubbed “main character syndrome”. Whether motivated by narcissism or a healthy sense of self-worth, some people live as though they were the hero in a fictional story and interact with the world around them as though they were its center. The narrator of The Woman in the Purple Skirt is not one of these people. She barely sees herself as a character at all. 

Heaven is excruciating. Readers share viscerally in the protagonist’s victimization at the hands of sadistic bullies. Fans of Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami’s first novel published in English in 2020, might be expecting another women-centered narrative. Heaven is radically different. This time, an unnamed male narrator describes his appalling position in the social hierarchy of his junior high school.

The stories collected in Terminal Boredom take up themes that might feel familiar to readers of contemporary Japanese fiction. The characters criticize, challenge, or defy social conventions. Narrators raise questions about identity and agency. But unlike, say, Mieko Kawakami or Sayaka Murata, author Izumi Suzuki died more than three decades ago.

Shaw Kuzki’s middle-grade novel Soul Lanterns begins in August 1970. A generation earlier, an atomic bomb leveled Hiroshima. Nozomi and her friends have grown up attending yearly memorials and learning about “the flash” in their peace studies class. When a much-loved art teacher takes an unexpected leave of absence, Nozomi begins to wonder about how the war really affected the adults in her life.