Adventures in Reading

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
February 27, 2008, 6:09 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction
“The place I like best in the world is the kitchen.”

At work we have a computer feature that allows us to type in a word, for example “Japan” or “Japanese,” and a list of books will appear (though certainly not fool proof) relating to your topic. Thanks to this and filling many a slow hour at work, I have stumbled across an increasing list of Japanese authors. My most recent addition has been Banana Yoshimoto and her novel Kitchen and her novella Moonlight Shadow.

Yoshimoto’s stories are subtle and intriguing, but a complexity exists under the surface that is easy to miss. Kitchen is about comfort, family, and loss. Mikage loses her grandmother at the beginning of the novel and is taken in by Yuichi and his transsexual mother Eriko Tanabe. The three form a peculiar family unit and the reader observes Mikage coping with her situation. Later, once Mikage has moved out, Eriko is killed and the reader now observes Yuichi coping. Intermingled with all of this is the peculiar and delicate relationship between Mikage and Yuichi.

A novella is basically a short novel and though Moonlight Shadow seems a bit of an “extra” to Kitchen, I believe it was my favorite of the two. Moonlight Shadow also explored coping with death but had a wonderful twist of magical realism. Satsuki, at 20, has lost her boyfriend and part of her coping mechanism has been to take up running. One morning she meets Urara, whom startles Satsuki, and a strange magical or dimensional shift occurs. Urara is a weird character and “knows” Satsuki’s phone number. Satsuki is invited to witness an occurrence on the bridge that only happens once every hundred years. It’s an engaging and short piece, and I found myself flying through it.

Both of Yoshimoto’s stories have a philosophical, an existential flavor to them. They deal with death and what life is and how to shape life around ourselves with death. Yoshimoto never becomes heavy handed with this melodramatic course though. Instead, these reflections are made throughout the stories while butting up against, for example, the intoxicating and welcoming influence of a kitchen.

When I first flipped through Kitchen I very much had the mistaken impression that they were fluff books like Cabot, Giffin, or Kinsella. Instead, I found the challenging and complex narratives of Kitchen and Moonlight that are strung so delicately together.

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