Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Genre: Fiction, contemporary
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★★
Summary: “Kitchen” consists of two companion stories; the novel of the same name and the novella “Moonlight Shadow”. In “Kitchen”, we follow Mikage Sakurai, an orphan raised by her grandmother. When her grandmother dies she struggles to come to terms with it, and is eventually taken in by her friend Yuichi and his transgender mother Eriko. Mikage’s favorite place in any house is the kitchen, and it’s through this room and through cooking that we get a glimpse into the life of a young woman who discovers love in the face of tragedy. In “Moonlight Shadow”, young Satsuki loses her boyfriend in a car crash. While she’s out running she meets a strange woman named Urara, who introduces her to The Weaver Festival Phenomenon, a strange experience that she hopes will help her heal.
“Why is it we have so little choice? We live like the lowliest worms. Always defeated – defeated we make dinner, we eat, we sleep. Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living is unacceptable.”
– Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto
This is my first Banana Yoshimoto novel and I can for sure say that I’m definitely going to check out more of her work! “Kitchen” consists of two stories centered around the same type of protagonist: a young woman leading an ordinary life against the backdrop of deep tragedy. Besides loss, the book tackles themes such as family, love, and hope, and it does so beautifully, creating something new and wonderful out of themes that are abundant in literature.
Both the novel and the novella use the simple ordinary things in life as vessels for bringing the main characters one step closer to recovery and to healing. Mikage has a love for the kitchen and discovers how much she enjoys cooking, which brings her to getting a job as a culinary teacher’s assistant, something which eventually inspires her to do something about the latent love for her friend Yuichi, who also struggles overcoming loss. Satsuki picks up running in the aftermath of her boyfriend’s death, and this is how she meets Urara, who turns out to be the one playing a key role in healing her wounds. And it is the simple things, a person’s habits, that largely brings stability in a life marked by grief and tragedy. It’s the routines that help the days pass until you reach a certain point of normalcy, and no matter how mundane something might strike you, there is comfort to be found in this. Something as simple as a kitchen is something that always will be present in your life.
The writing in this book is gorgeous. It’s simple and at times matter-of-factly, but it flows so comfortably and paints the most wonderful scenes. There are so many relatable quotes in this small book that will stick with you for a long time. The characters are also written beautifully and you can’t help but love all of them dearly, even the minor ones. They’re quirky, relatable, mysterious, and most of all inspiring despite their struggles.
This is a short book and thus a sparse tale, and some might say that it leaves something to be desired, a more clearer resolution perhaps. I personally don’t think so as I don’t think you can pin a clear resolution to something so complicated as grief. This is not a book that is written in a way that will typically make you cry (though I’m sure it will if you let it), but I feel like it’s written to comfort and in its own subtle way it still evokes big emotions. It’s deep and haunting despite its short length, but at the same time both of these stories ended on a positive, peaceful note.
Every once in a while you need to read a book like this. This is truly wonderful prose, and ultimately it is the prose and the way these topics are handled that turn these heavy stories into hopeful stories.