Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

This beautiful little book about Mikage Sakurai, an unsure young woman who slowly makes her way in the world, is a delicate little morsel bursting with rich afternotes. Carry it around in your bag to remind you there’s hope.

Kitchen, a novel by the excellently-named Banana Yoshimoto, is a meal of a book. First published in 1988, and translated from the Japanese in 1993, it became an overnight hit, winning multiple literary prizes and held up as a glittering example of contemporary Japanese literature.

Interesting, when the story itself holds very little sparkle and melodrama at all.

It tells the story of Mikage Sakurai, a young woman whose grandmother has recently died, leaving her entirely alone in the world; unsure, grieving, scared. By chance, she falls into a strange homestay with Yuichi, of a similar age and a friend of her grandmother’s, and his transgender mother, Eriko. In their company, Mikage begins to venture in the world she originally seemed so frightened of, step by step.

Banana Yoshimoto

There is the cleaning of floors whilst singing in the early hours of the morning. There is a cross-country trek to bring Yuichi good noodles. There is Eriko, who is beautiful and charismatic and whose story is presented not as a freak show, but as a natural expression of self. Her son shrugs. ‘I had a father,’ he says, ‘Now I have a mother.’ There is a confrontation with a jealous lipsticked girl at work and Mikage having to decide where to go.

This is an uplifting novel, quite simply because it isn’t trying to be uplifting. There are no great epiphanies about the universe, no sudden climatic sense of purpose, no running off happily into the sunset. It’s quiet, and happens in the dawn, and is occupied with the small things: the peace Mikage finds in her kitchen, the glass Eriko buys for her as a housewarming gift, Mikage’s growing comfort amongst her colleagues. Even the argument – between a classmate of Yuichi and Mikage about her staying in his house – isn’t played out as drama. It’s entirely naturalistic, and entirely human.

Mikage’s grief is also beautifully underplayed, giving a sense of numbness far more painful in its realism than any desperate graveside speeches. This is the novel you’d carry around in your bag to remind you there’s hope.

Most recent publications of the novel include a short novella, Moonlight Shadow, dealing with similar themes of loss; Satsuki’s boyfriend Hitoshi walked into the night, drove away in his car and died. ‘My soul,’ she describes, ‘went away to some other place and I couldn’t bring it back.’ With Hitoshi’s brother Hiiragi, whose girlfriend died in the same crash and who now wears her uniform in remembrance, she tries to make sense of what has happened, whilst a strange woman called Urara tries to find a way for them all to let go. This is similarly a soft, beautiful story that seemed to me faintly remiscent of Virginia Woolf’s writing style, particularly her short stories.

Kitchen; a meal of a book, even though you can devour it in just one sitting. It’s sweet without being maudlin; and life’s short, so eat your dessert first.

Buy on Amazon: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

See more books by Banana Yoshimoto

Buy on Amazon: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

See more books by Banana Yoshimoto

 


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