Book Talk: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

[Spoilers]

This is by far the strangest book I’ve ever read! I can’t even count the number of times in here that I cringed at the weirdness and went “Ewww!” but I also can’t count the number of times when I was so angry that it made my blood boil. This strange book is a mish-mash of things society doesn’t want to acknowledge and some that are so out of the world and bizarre that it makes you ask, out loud, “What the hell is going on?!”

Trigger Warnings: Child Abuse, Gore.

Earthlings is the story of Natsuki, who has a best friend called Piyyut, a plush toy hedgehog who has told her in secret that he is from the planet Popinpobopia. He has also told her that he is here to help her save the Earth. Natsuki lives her life believing the people around her when they say she is good for nothing. Her calmness in the face of this abuse stems from the strength that she draws from her best friend, Piyyut, and her cousin Yuu. Yuu and her motto is to survive, no matter what, and Natsuki believes she will.

Natsuki is now a grown woman and living with her asexual husband and all her hopes that her family will leave her alone are dashed to the ground as they begin to pile on the pressure for her to become pregnant. Will Natsuki be able to take this pressure? Will her husband do something to help her stand firm against the pressure? What happened to Yuu and will Natsuki be able to find a way to get through to him? This forms the entire story.

There’s so much to unpack in this story that I just don’t know where to start! But let’s begin at the very beginning. (Very intelligent.)

First of all, the abuse from the parent. Oh my Lord, how can a parent be like this? I mean, I understand that there ARE people like this, sadly, but Natsuki’s mother just made me want to punch her in the face. “Useless” and “She’s always making a mess of everything” are just 2 things that the mother says about the kid! This made Natsuki feel that maybe, just maybe, her mother was right and she WAS of no use.

Second, the sexual abuse from Natsuki’s teacher. I literally gagged when I read this! And I guess it sort of reflected reality when people made him out to be some sort of angel. Even years later, when Natsuki shared it with someone she thought was a friend, that friend turned her nose up at her and blamed her for encouraging him. This made me so mad!

That’s how you know it’s a good book – it makes you mad and you sort of want to make the world into a place where these things don’t exist anymore. Does it make any sense?

The writing is simple and fluid and it makes you want to hug Natsuki and protect her from the big, bad world. And when it reflects reality like this, it makes you uncomfortable but also appreciate the book more!

The other thing that I identified with so much was the point where Natsuki talks about the world and society as a Factory to make kids. The moment you’re 22, you’re expected to get married. The moment you get married, there are people breathing down your neck to have, have, have kids. Do they even pause to understand that maybe the person doesn’t want to have kids? Or that they can’t have kids?

It’s not just the elders. Even peers tend to do that! Especially those who have had kids! I think that their intentions are good. They are of the thinking that, “I want my friend to experience the same joy that I do.” But I don’t think they stop to consider that maybe their friend doesn’t find joy in the things that you do. Or that their insistence could be harmful to their friend’s mental health.  I’ve had so many friends say this to me and every single time, I go into a downward spiral because I feel in such times that my friends don’t get me at all! And that, more often than not, breaks my heart.

Here’s a quote from the book that I find to be so true, so on point:

Everyone believed in the Factory. Everyone was brainwashed by the Factory and did as they were told. They all used their reproductive organs for the Factory and did their jobs for the sake of the Factory.

Anyone who didn’t manufacture new life – or wasn’t obviously trying to – came under gentle pressure. Couples that hadn’t manufactured new life had to demonstrate their contribution to the Factory through their work.

There’s also a narrative here about a rather patriarchal society talking about how “it’s a wife’s duty to be intimate. He finds it hard to hold down a job, so you have to support him in that regard.” If a couple is having issues conceiving, it’s the wife’s fault. If the man is having trouble performing, it’s the wife’s fault. If anything is happening, it’s the wife’s fault. If nothing is happening, it’s the wife’s fault. Because whatever the situation, it ends up being the wife’s fault, for supporting, for not supporting, for giving him free rein, for controlling too much, and for most of all, being a woman.

Because as another quote from the book goes:

On Earth, young women were supposed to fall in love and have sex, and if they didn’t, they were “lonely” or “bored” or “wasting their youth and would regret it later!”

Us women have no value if we don’t want to do any of the things that society has “prescribed” as rules. But if a man wants to do the same thing, it’s all, “Oh, he is independent! He doesn’t want to be tied down! A bachelor living life on his own terms!” What double standards society has! And Earthlings exposes quite a few of these double standards in a way that will rightfully make you angry. And that is why it is an important book!

Please, please go read this book! It will make you cringe in places because of the graphic details in there. But read this for a slap of reality. It’s important!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Goodreads

2 thoughts on “Book Talk: Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

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