Considered as Yoshimoto’s best loved book, Kitchen features two distinct stories in contemporary Japan about love, despair, loss and hope. How love can become the source and cure for despair and how loss can become both the start and end of hope. After its release it earned its place as one of the best books in contemporary Japanese literature.
The first story is Kitchen, the title-piece. Originally published in Japanese in 1988, the book sold millions of copies, won prestigious literary awards, translated and released in more than 20 languages and countries, made into a movie and created a phenomenon called as “Bananamania” in Japan and in the US. It is about Mikage Sakurai who, at the start of the story, just became totally orphaned. She was taken in by her grandmother’s friend, Yuichi, who is of the same age as her. Yuichi lives with her transgender mother, Eriko, and the three forged an unexpected friendship that with some bad turn of events made things unstable. The title refers to Mikage’s fascination with the kitchen, which she considers as her favorite room. The author takes readers to Mikage’s life as she deals with unexpected things that come her way while at the same time taking readers to her culinary journey.
“No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen
The second story is Moonlight Shadow. It was written while the author was working as a waitress in Tokyo and won her the Izumi Kyoka Prize in 1986. The book follows the story of Satsuki, Hiiragi and Urura. Each experienced a tragic loss. Sasuki’s boyfriend, Hitoshi, died in a car accident which will make her more close to Hiiragi, her late boyfriend’s younger brother. Hiiragi’s girlfriend dies on the same car accident as his brother. Then there’s Urara, who also loss someone dear in her life, whom Satsuki met one day one of her jogging rounds and the one who introduced her to the Weaver Festival Phenomenon ‘that only happens every hundred years’, the phenomenon that will help them accept what happened and moved on with their lives.
Both stories deal with losing someone dear to our lives and the consequences that comes with it especially if the loss is sudden and how that loss changes our perceptions and views about how we see life and death. Hiiragi dealing with the thought of living alone, then found a home thru Yuichi and his mother, then found herself leaving only to return because of a tragic incident that left her and Yuchi question things about their losses. In the second story, the three main characters deal with their sudden losses that connected them. As they are grieving and finding their footing, the readers are taken on a journey as to how each of the characters tries to move on.
“People aren’t overcome by situations or outside forces. Defeat comes from within.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen
The book also talks about how each of the characters diverts their attentions from the loneliness that they feel or their defense mechanisms. Their desire for stability and as the character tries to fill the void that was created by their losses. From her repeated looses, Mikage compensates by improving her skill in Cooking. She discovered that cooking can become therapeutic. Yuichi wears the school uniform of her deceased girlfriend at school. In Moonlight Shadow, the characters turn their hope towards the mystical Weaver Festival and the mystery that it will give them and its possible effect to them. Food obsession is the theme imminent throughout the book, with the main characters eating during the books high parts.
This is a short but a totally enjoyable read. The book’s dreamlike style of narration is ingenious and totally immersive. It is quick but tightly woven. This is one of the books that I’ll definitely not forget for a long time. This is one of the few straight-forward books that touched me in certain ways that left me still being haunted by its words. The author tackled a universal feeling, of loss and love, and does it masterfully.
The characters are relatable and it’s the reason why it is not hard to connect to them. What they feel and how the feelings re presented is something that is not hard to connect to. The first-person narration allows the reader to feel the grief, agony and pain that the characters feel. I fully felt the emotional state of the characters. The simplistic yet elaborate writing style made that achievable.
“As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won’t let my spirit be destroyed.”
– Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen
Even though majority of the book is about loss, pain and grief, the book will make you appreciate the life you have and appreciate everyday that you are being given. It talks about carrying on despite the setbacks. It’s a powerful book that talks about acceptance, persistence and the will to move forward.
This is the first book that I read of Yoshimoto’s work. It has this same tone of magical realism that reminds me of Haruki Murakami’s writing style. It made me think and transported me into a world that separated me from reality. And I believe that is what’s innate with Japanese authors and it’s the reason why I enjoy reading their works. They have this ability to transform an ordinary looking day and ordinary looking characters into something other-worldly. I again experienced the feeling that I experienced when I read a Haruki Murakami book. I guess that what we call bookgasm. The reading experience is so surreal. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.
Five stars out of 5!
Now I’m into the Bananamania!
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: April 2006 (first published 1988)
Publisher: Andrews Grove Press
No. of Pages: 152 pages
About the Author:
Banana Yoshimoto is the pen name of Mahoko Yoshimoto, a Japanese contemporary writer.
Yoshimoto, daughter of Takaaki Yoshimoto, was born in Tokyo on July 24, 1964. Along with having a famous father, poet Takaaki Yoshimoto, Banana’s sister, Haruno Yoiko, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. Growing up in a liberal family, she learned the value of independence from a young age.
She graduated from Nihon University’s Art College, majoring in Literature. During that time, she took the pseudonym “Banana” after her love of banana flowers, a name she recognizes as both “cute” and “purposefully androgynous.”
Despite her success, Yoshimoto remains a down-to-earth and obscure figure. Whenever she appears in public she eschews make-up and dresses simply. She keeps her personal life guarded, and reveals little about her certified Rolfing practitioner, Hiroyoshi Tahata and son (born in 2003). Instead, she talks about her writing. Each day she takes half an hour to write at her computer, and she says, “I tend to feel guilty because I write these stories almost for fun.” (Text about the author courtesy of Goodreads)