Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Kitchen" by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen  by Banana Yoshimoto-(1988-translated by Megan Backus)

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.

Mel u


Unknown said...

Thanks for the plug! Book 53 (July):

for those who are interested! It's definitely worth a read - the book, not the post, but please read that too ;)

Mel u said...

Tony-I agree the dialogue in this book and "Goodbye Tsugumi" seems to not ring true at times-it would be interested to see if some who has read the original versions would think the same thing

Anna said...

I haven't yet read anything by this author, but I've been wanting to read this one for a while. Thanks for the review.

Diary of an Eccentric

ds said...

I have heard about this book, but had dismissed it. Your review has changed that opinion. Thank you!

Suko said...

I am in the middle of reading Kitchen. It certainly has some unique twists:

"It turns out Yoichi's mother used to be her father."

Thanks for an excellent review--I hope to finish Kitchen,Banana Yoshimoto's debut novel, soon, and post about it next week for the JLC-3.

JoAnn said...

I MUST read this author! Thanks for the review.

Suko said...

Update: finished Kitchen yesterday. Will post about it within a few days.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I enjoyed reading your review. I am a great fan of Banana Yoshimoto though sometimes the translations can be slightly irritating.

Mel u said...

Anna-Kitchen does not require a big investment of reading time-

DS-Kitchen could be made to seem like a light weight book but it really a lot more than that

Suko-your review of the book was very good-thanks

Joanne-I hope you will try one of her works-they are all short-I mention this as I try to be respectful of the reading times of others and personally will hesitate some times to start a huge book by an unknown to be writer-

Crafty Green Poet-yes some of the dialogue does not "ring true"-more in Goodbye Tsugumi than in Kitchen