by Banana Yoshimoto, 1988
translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus
Grove Press, 1993
"The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it's a kitchen, if it's a place where they make food, it's fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!)."
So opens this slim novella, and I already love it. By page 20, I'm a fan of the author and wondering if she has written anything else. Something about this crystal clear, simple prose appeals to me. The writing is crisp and elegant, but tinged with sadness.
But what is Kitchen about? A young woman, Mikage, moves in with her friend Yuichi and his mother Eriko (who used to be his father), after the death of the grandmother who raised her. The book deals with themes of love and loss, loneliness, transsexuality, coping and moving forward.
At just over 100 pages, it would be easy to speed through this novella, but there are too many sentences, beautiful and profound, that make you want to stop, reread, and think. Here are a few of my favorites:
"When was it I realized that, on this dark and solitary path we all walk, the only way we can light is our own? Although I was raised with love, I was always lonely." (page 21)
"To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on in spite if it, I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities? I didn't like it, but it made it easier to go on." (page 56)
"People aren't overcome by situations or outside forces; defeat invades from within, I thought." (page 92)
"Truly happy memories always live on, shining. Over time, one by one, they come back to life." (page 100)
"Moonlight Shadow", Yoshimoto's first short story that won the Nihon University Department of Arts Prize in 1986, is also included in the book. It deals with similar themes and is equally beautiful.
The cover of Kitchen is striking, but I haven't seen photos of the back posted. It's too good to miss, so I've included it here. Many of you also know that I like to coordinate books with bookmarks. This is the bookmark I won from our Japanese Literature Challenge hostess Bellezza, and it definitely enhanced my reading experience.
Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite author discoveries this year, and I look forward to reading her other books and essays. I'm grateful for all the blogger reviews I've read, particularly those from Nymeth, Eva, and Tony, but it was Mel's review that finally prompted me to pick up Kitchen. Now I must decide which 'Banana' to read next.