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, June 5, 2012

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa (2008, 193 pages)

Japanese Literature on the Reading Life

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa (translated by David Karashima) is a beautiful almost elegy of a book.   It is a love affair with exquisitely  prepared Japanese food, with the beauty of the mountain woods, with a difficult mother with an amazing secret, a restaurant, and Indian boy friend and a pig named Hermes.   

As the story opens the female central character Rinko returns to her apartment to find it cleaned out and her Indian boyfriend gone.   She has no choice but to move back in with her mother.    She and her mother do not have a happy history.   As far as Rinko thinks her mother has been the mistress of several men though she does admire that she still has her looks in her early fifties.    Rinko has had experience working in a restaurant and she and her boy friend had talked about opening there own eatery.    Rinko decided she would use an empty building on her mother's property and open a restaurant.   It was so much fun to see the attention to detail in the plans and to realize what a labor of love this was going to be.   Rinko wants a special restaurant and plans to have only one customer a day.   Word spreads a bit in the area of her plans and her first customer is an older lady, known simply as "The Mistress" as she was once the long time mistress of a wealthy now deceased man.   Ever since his passing she has worn black and has no joy in her life.   

One of the best things about The Restaurant and the End of Time is  the brilliant food preparation depicted.   I have never read better and Ogawa descriptions of wild mushrooms are miniature.masterpieces.  The Mistress had a wish, she wanted her love to appear to her.   The next time Rinko goes to the market she sees a radiant older woman in a brightly colored outfit, a woman full of life and at first she wonders who this might be.  It is the mistress.   Soon word gets out that having dinner at Rinko's place, called The Snail, has the power to make dreams come true.   

In a very interesting plot development, which I did not see at all coming but once it happened it made perfect sense, we see that Rinko is very far from knowing everything there is to know about her mother.   

There is great sadness in the novel.   I think one of the themes of the work (a term I do not really like to use but I will) is that one of the ways of transcending the pain of life is through a cultivation of beauty and through its creation.   

In my reading of the post WWII Japanese novel more and more I am convinced that much of the best of Japanese literature is an attempt to deal with terrible cultural destruction brought on when the Emperor of Japan admitted he was not divine and the Japanese faced the humiliation brought on by the lose of the war.  In a small way, that this novel is about dealing with terrible loses, about how all life arises from decay and is essentially parasitic.   

The Restaurant of Love Regained is a great edition to the translated  Japanese novel.   I would happily read more of Ogawa's work.  

Official author bio

Born in 1973, Ito Ogawa is the author of several children’s books. The Restaurant of Love Regained, her first novel, is a bestseller in Japan and has been adapted into a successful movie. Ito runs a hugely popular website where she offers daily recipes of Japanese cuisine.

In the interests of full disclosure I was kindly provided a free copy of this work by Alma Books.  

This is my forth year to participate in Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge.   There are lots of great reading suggestions on her web page and among the many reviews that will be done by participants.

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

an interesting book & am in partial agreement with you concerning the Emperor, although I think that was the straw that broke the camel's back & that it goes back further than that probably starting with the forced opening of their borders & having to deal with the western superpowers around the end of the 19th century, a time when they where trying to find a Japanese identity, which again was smashed in WW2 & as you rightly say the question of divinity.

Mel u said...

Bellezza has left a new comment on your post "The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa":

This sounds like a fascinating novel, containing so many of the things that I love about this genre: beauty, sadness, loss, mystique. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Mel U, and making me wish I was a little better at World History! (In America, we tend to focus too much on ourselves in our public schools, much to my shame. I'm trying to amend that in my own classroom...)