After Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara and The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears by Kenzaburo Oe I felt a need to read something a bit less grim. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (whose Goodbye Tsugumi I really enjoyed reading) sounded like a perfect book for my next read for the The Japanese Challenge III .
Mikage, the central character, was raised by her grandmother after her parents died. We meet her shortly after he grandmother dies. She ends up moving in with her male friend Yoichi and Yoichi's mother. It turns out Yoichi's mother used to be her father. Mikage feels very alone without her grandmother.
I feel an immense loneliness. I was tied by blood to no other creature in this world
Mikage at once is awestruck by the beauty and grace of Eriko, now the mother of Yoichi.
"Mikage', he said, "were you a little bit intimidated by my mother?"
"I have never seen a woman that beautiful"
"Guess what else--she's a man". He could barely contain his amusement.
Mikage loves kitchens. In the joy of being in a kitchen I liked so well, my head cleared.
Mikage has learned some lessons in life at a young age.
When was it I realized that, on this truly dark and solitary path we all walk, the only way we light is our own?
Although I was raised with love, I was always lonely.
Mikage begins a sort of relationship with Yoichi, her housemate. A lot turns on her love of cooking and kitchens which is lovingly detailed for us. She has a dream job as the assistant to a cooking show host. She never can escape her deep loneliness: at the bottom of a deep loneliness that no one could touch.
Mikage hides from her loneliness in the kitchen, cooking is her refuge.
There are some exciting plot events here. We learn something about staging of a cooking show.
I liked both this book and her Goodbye Tsugumi very much. I would characterize her books as likable in that you could see her books as friends.
One could go deeper in this work than I have done here. It is a tale of bottomless loneliness, a worship of beauty for its own sake, of masks and of the love of food. Maybe I needed a break from the pure grimness of some of the works I have recently read for the Japanese Literature III Challenge.
Maybe the fact that a tale that turns on loneliness and transvestism for its theme can be somehow seen as
sort of light tells us something about the post war Japanese novel.