The Sweetest Fruits

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

2020 John Gardner Fiction Book Award

—Binghampton center for writers-state university of new york

Best Fiction Books of 2019


20 Best Books of 2019

—Mental floss

The Best Books of 2019: Fiction


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.


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.


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.


[I]n her novel The Sweetest Fruits Monique Truong ’90 (author of The Book of Salt) imagines the colorful, contradictory Hearn back to life through the stories of three women who loved and lost him.

—sylvia brownrigg, Yale magazine

[T]he mesmerizing novel The Sweetest Fruits, by Monique Truong, retells [Lafcadio Hearn’s] life from the perspective of women close to him. It’s not giving it away to mention that Truong’s version of Hearn’s life punches some serious holes in his iconic image.

—jeff kingston, los angeles review of books

Truong is exploring personal memoir in all its creative and contradictory subjectivity.

—Gregory cowles, NEW york times book review, 12 books we recommend this week

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

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

Truong’s expansive imaginary, bruised with loss, puts the novel in the company of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and J. M. Coetzee’s Foe.

—Leah Jing McIntosh, The Saturday Paper

…The Sweetest Fruits is rich and evocative, and offers a fullness not just of Hearn’s character, but of the context and people he lived with.

—Rachel Watts, Westerly Magazine

Truong’s novel demands that the reader pause, listen, and digest before proceeding to the next chapter. Here, the author’s haunting use of metaphor will have the reader running back in no time, hungry for more.

—Tinashe Jakwa,

[T]hese stories explain the life of an esteemed writer [Lafcadio Hearn] and the lives he impacted throughout his career and life.

—ashley johnson, parade, 10 new fiction books you won’t want to put down

[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

Truong’s genius for finding joy and life amidst trauma and dislocation ensures that the novel she germinated from the traces left by Patrick Lafcadio Hearn is filled with plenty and sweetness, too. In The Sweetest Fruits, even fragmented and forgotten stories offer sustenance. And in nourishing them it nourishes us.

—leila mansouri, THE believer

As a moving, poignant novel it is magnificent; as a recontextualization of malestream history, it is long overdue.

—hans rollmann,

Monique Truong’s book focuses…on the three women in the major stops of Hearn’s life…united by the need to imagine big lives, lives outside the norm.

—Elena Nicolaou, refinery29, the best books of september

[U]nique historical fiction novel…[s]panning both geography and decades.


[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

[S]parkling, imaginative historical novel tells the life story of writer Lafcadio Hearn from the viewpoints of the three women.

—John Timpane, The Philadelphia Enquirer, Fall 2019 Biggest Books

Monique Truong’s nomadic tale is a look at the storied life of 19th century writer and expeditionist Lafcadio Hearn through the eyes of the women who knew him best. Sweeping in scope and written in tight, precise language, it’s a read-into-the-night pick.

Marie Claire

An absolutely brilliant intersection of fiction and history, politics and culture, love and loss.

Hyphen Magazine

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

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, vulture, the best and biggest books to read this fall

It was a short biography of Hearn…that tantalized Truong to craft this 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, the must-read new books of fall 2019

What Truong has done brilliantly here is that by very decidedly placing the story in the past … the same problems, the same divisiveness, the same fractures, somehow have almost grown deeper and more stark here in 2019.

—Nick Petrulakis/brookline booksmith,, 20 Books that local experts say you should read this fall

Truong transforms author Lafcadio Hearn’s biography into a revelatory mystery by giving voice to three women who shaped him.


By reclaiming these exemplary women’s voices, Truong enhances history with illuminating herstory too long overlooked.


Precisely researched, The Sweetest Fruits reads like a collection of oral histories; it provides a series of vivid impressions illuminating each heroine’s personal story and her purpose in telling it.

—Sarah Johnson, Historical Novel Society

Truong’s smart novel, told in evocative, lush language, raises important questions of slavery and colonization.


A story of three women…who couldn’t come from worlds more different from one another—yet all cross paths with the same writer.


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