The Sweetest Fruits

Publication date: September 3, 2019, Viking Books.

In The Sweetest Fruits, three women, Rosa, Alethea, and Setsu, tell the story of their life with Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a globetrotting Greek-Irish writer best known as the author of America’s first Creole cookbook and for his many volumes about the folklore and ghost stories of Meiji Era Japan. An immigrant thrice over, Hearn is now remembered at best as a keen cultural observer and at worst as a purveyor of exotica.

In their own unorthodox ways, the three women are also intrepid travelers and explorers. Their accounts witness Hearn’s remarkable life but also seek to witness their own existence and luminous will to live unbounded by gender, race, and the mores of their time. Each is a gifted storyteller with her own precise reason for sharing her story, and together their voices offer a revealing, often contradictory portrait of Hearn.

Rosa Antonia Cassimati, a Greek woman tells of how she willed herself out of her father’s cloistered house, married a British Army officer, and in 1852 came to Ireland with her son Hearn, then only two years old, only to leave without him soon after. Alethea Foley, born into slavery on a Kentucky plantation, made her way to Cincinnati, Ohio, after the Civil War to work as a boarding house cook, where in 1872 she met and married Hearn, a young, up-and-coming newspaper reporter, despite the tell-tale warning signs. In Matsue, Japan, in 1891, Koizumi Setsu, a former samurai’s daughter is introduced to Hearn, who was the “New Foreign Teacher” there, and became the mother of his four children and his unsung literary collaborator.

With brilliant sensitivity and an unstinting eye, The Sweetest Fruits illuminates the women’s tenacity and their struggles in this novel that circumnavigates the globe in the search for love, family, home, and belonging.

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Press & Praise

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

Intimate and sensuous yet majestic in scope, The Sweetest Fruits is a rapturous, glorious novel, extraordinarily alive to the world.

—Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew

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

Monique Truong has composed a sublime, many-voiced novel of voyage and reinvention.  It will cross horizons, yet remain burrowed in your heart.

—Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

In this globetrotting, luminous novel, the three narrators offer an honest, contradictory portrait of the man they knew that highlights the social expectations of their gender, race, and class for their time… The Sweetest Fruits leads readers on a sweeping narrative that poses questions about belonging, existence, and storytelling.

—Kate Gavino, The Millions, Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview

In The Sweetest Fruits, Monique Truong does what she does best, painting a vivid portrait of privilege, restlessness, and tenacity through the conflicting experiences of characters grappling with their senses of love, family, and home.

—Kevin Chau, Lit Hub, Most Anticipated Books of 2019

[A] remarkable novel about love, the power of memory, and betrayal . . . Truong is dazzling on the sentence level, and she inhabits each of these three women brilliantly. Truong’s command of voice and historical knowledge brings the stories of these remarkable women to life.

—Publishers Weekly, starred review and Featured Fiction Review of the week