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The Sweetest Fruits. A Novel

The Sweetest Fruits. A Novel


A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice

2020 John Gardner Fiction Book Award Winner

A Mental Floss and PopMatters Best Books of 2019

A Publishers Weekly Best Fiction Books of 2019


With brilliant sensitivity and an unstinting eye, The Sweetest Fruits circumnavigates the globe, introducing three unforgettable women, separated by geography and culture but connected by their love for the Greek-Irish author Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904). Excluded from history’s dominant patriarchal narratives but with their own powerful stories to tell, they share their intrepid tales of crossing borders, languages, and social norms in pursuit of love, family, home, and belonging. This edition comes with a new afterword by the author.

SKU: 978-0-9994514-4-1
  • About the Book

    Three women, Rosa, Alethea, and Setsu, tell the story of their lives with Lafcadio Hearn, a.k.a. Koizumi Yakumo, best known as the globetrotting author of America’s first Creole cookbook and his volumes about the folklore and ghost stories of Meiji-Era Japan. An immigrant thrice over, now remembered as a keen cultural observer at best, and a purveyor of exotica at worst, Hearn was a remarkable but conflicted man who surrounded himself with women wanderers who were also engaging storytellers.


    Rosa Antonia Cassimati, a woman of the Ionian Islands, wills herself out of her father’s cloistered house, marries a British Army officer, and in 1852 comes to Ireland with her two-year-old son, Hearn, only to leave without him soon after. Alethea Foley, born into slavery on a Kentucky plantation, works as a boardinghouse cook in Cincinnati, Ohio, after the Civil War, where in 1872 she meets and later marries Hearn, an up-and-coming newspaper reporter. In Matsue, Japan, in 1891, Koizumi Setsu, a former samurai’s daughter, is introduced to the “New Foreign Teacher,” Hearn, and despite their initial lack of a common language, becomes the mother of his four children and his unsung literary collaborator.


    More than just mothers and wives, these trailblazing traveler-explorers witness Hearn’s remarkable life, while also giving testimony to their own displaced existence and luminous will to live unbounded by gender, race, and the mores of their time. Each with their own precise reasons for telling their stories, the women, together, offer a revealing, often contradictory portrait of Hearn. The Sweetest Fruits is a graceful excavation of their hidden narratives, which tell infinitely more than their love for one man.

  • Technical Specifications

    Title: The Sweetest Fruits. A Novel

    Author: Monique Truong

    Publisher: Gaudy Boy

    ISBN: 978-0-9994514-4-1
    Book size: 140mmW x 216mmH

    Pages: 310

    Weight: 300gsm

    Year: 2021

    Language: English
    Finish: Paperback
    Genre: Fiction

    Retail price (before GST): SGD$24

  • About the Author

    Born in Saigon, South Vietnam (now Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), in 1968, Monique Truong came to the US as a refugee in 1975. She is based now in Brooklyn, New York. Her novels are the bestselling The Book of Salt (2003) and the award-winning Bitter in the Mouth (2010). Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, O magazine, Real Simple, Food & Wine, and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among others. Truong is also a lyricist and librettist, working in collaboration with composers Joan La Barbara and Shih-Hui Chen.  Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship, and Hodder Fellowship, she has taught fiction writing at Columbia School of the Arts, Princeton, and Baruch College as the Sidney Harman writer-in-residence. She received her BA in Literature from Yale University and her JD from Columbia Law School.

  • What Others Say

    “A marvelous mixture of fact and imagination . . . Truong’s lush style is on gorgeous display in these pages, her imagery evoking hidden emotional depths. . . . While the lives, loves, and adventures of Lafcadio Hearn hold center stage in this novel, these are set off by a rich brocade of social critiques—of slavery, colonization, and the repression of women. With great generosity and compassion, Truong explores the difference between writing and telling stories, with the question of who gets to speak and who remains silent.”
    Diana Abu-Jaber, The Washington Post

    “A delicate, impressionistic tale . . . Truong is exploring personal memory in all its creative and contradictory subjectivity. . . . [The Sweetest Fruits] is propelled not by action but by the retrospective piecing together that happens once a relationship is over. Spurred by nostalgia, regret, longing, and anger, each woman examines her memories. . . . As Setsu observes, ‘to tell another’s story is to bring him to life,’ but here it’s the women who achieve that feat rather than the man who connected them.”
    Priya Parmar, The New York Times Book Review

    “It isn’t only the fantastic Lafcadio Hearn who springs to new life in these pages. The women around him do as well, even as they mix the extraordinary and the ordinary in an exhilarating new way. The Sweetest Fruits is brilliant and heartbreaking—I was transfixed.”
    Gish Jen, author of Typical American

    “I’ve been addicted to Truong’s writing ever since her debut, The Book of Salt, a work of historical fiction incorporating real people that felt—unlike much of that genre—lush, invigorating, and real. Her third novel fictionalizes Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn but through the eyes of only his mother and his two wives—one a freed American slave, the other his Japanese translator.”
    Boris Kachka, New York Magazine

    “Mesmerizing . . . Truong focuses on the mostly neglected women in Hearn’s life, imagining the struggles and sorrows of his mother, and, looking at him through the eyes of his two wives, imparts searing counterpoints to the iconic Hearn. . . . In going beyond the knowable and guiding us through the imaginable, Truong takes the measure of the man through his women in coruscating prose.”
    Jeff Kingston, Los Angeles Review of Books

    “[A] sparkling, imaginative historical novel.”
    John Timpane, The Philadelphia Enquirer (Fall 2019 Biggest Books)

    “This novel is not Lafcadio Hearn’s, but rather it belongs to the women of his life, who again are living and breathing, thanks to Truong . . . [she] allows each woman to speak her mind, and words are freed after years of being silently bound. . . . Thanks to Truong’s perfect rendering of their voices, justice has finally spoken and those women’s voices find both life and peace.”
    Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

    “By ‘telling it slant,’ Monique Truong brings to life brave, spirited women left out of a history that privileges what Toni Morrison called ‘the master narrative.’ In doing so, she humanizes rather than diminishes Hearn. Through disparate, often contradictory narratives, she invites further investigation.”
    Renee H. Shea, World Literature Today

    “An absolutely brilliant intersection of fiction and history, politics and culture, love and loss.”
    Hyphen Magazine

    “[A] meditation on the vagaries of identity, the malleability of memory, and the question of whose stories are heard and whose are silenced. It is a measure of Truong’s imaginative empathy and stylistic suppleness that she has created three vivid and distinct voices.”
    Tess Lewis, The Arts Fuse

    “For anyone whose life feels overshadowed by a more powerful figure, or even just not centered at any point in life for reasons beyond one’s control, reading [The Sweetest Fruits] can be a vindicating experience.”
    Rei Magosaki, Los Angeles Review of Books

    “The novel empathetically imagines the circumstances of these forgotten women, so influential and supportive of Hearn. Yet the truest kinship lies between author Truong and Hearn himself, both segueing between vastly different cultures, making the common humanity of even the most disparate lives instantly accessible.”
    Damian Flanagan, The Japan Times

    “By giving readers a concert of voices, at last singing louder than Hearn’s biography and mythology, Truong asks us to ponder the ways those who are often ignored and marginalized might have their own rich, epic stories worth telling. In that sense, The Sweetest Fruits is a type of justice.”
    Eric Nguyen, diaCRITICS

    “As a moving, poignant novel it is magnificent; as a recontextualization of malestream history, it is long overdue.”
    Hans Rollmann, PopMatters

    “The portrait of Hearn that emerges is one of a complicated, wounded man searching for a home. And without ever giving him a voice, this thoughtfully crafted, brilliantly researched novel is an intimate look into his strange, storied life.”
    Rebecca Shapiro, Columbia Magazine

    “A glorious imaginative reclamation of the stories of those who loved and nurtured [Lafcadio] Hearn and his storytelling.”
    Electric Literature

    “By reclaiming these exemplary women’s voices, Truong enhances history with illuminating herstory too long overlooked.”
    Terry Hong, Booklist (Starred Review)

    “The real genius in The Sweetest Fruits comes from the unseen pen of author Monique Truong, who allows each woman to speak her mind, and words are freed after years of being silently bound.”
    Paul Mori, International Examiner

    “Truong’s smart novel, told in evocative, lush language, raises important questions of slavery and colonization.”
    The National Book Review

    “Truong transforms author Lafcadio Hearn’s biography into a revelatory mystery by giving voice to three women who shaped him.”
    Jane Ciabattari, (Ten Books to Read in September)

    “[A] fictionalized retelling of the life of globetrotting writer Lafcadio Hearn, Truong recounts his peripatetic days through the eyes of three women who cared for him.”
    Juliana Rose Pignataro, Newsweek (21 Books to Curl Up with This Fall)

    “[I]magines the colorful, contradictory Hearn back to life through the stories of three women who loved and lost him.”
    Sylvia Brownrigg, Yale Magazine

    “Arresting and sensual historical fiction. Her sweeping prose lifts up the unsung women behind Hearn, a man larger than life in part thanks to those whom history has failed to note.”
    Lauren LeBlanc, Observer (Must-Read New Books of Fall 2019)

    “Presented in four courses from the perspective of the women closest to him, The Sweetest Fruits is a feast you’ll want to devour for its arresting metaphors and its beautiful prose.”
    Anita Lo, author of Solo: A Modern Cookbook for One

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