The Sweetest Fruits


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.

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.