Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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.


  1. Oh, I loved this when I read it years ago...must be like 10 years now. You make me want to re-read it again!

  2. WOW -- you had me with the opening sentence! I have not heard of this author before, but I will definitely check out this book.

    Thanks so much for such a beautiful review.

  3. I love reading her books, but do find them very forgetable. I can't remember which ones I've read. I think I've read this one, but your review isn't jogging my memory. It has been a while since I last read one of her books though - perhaps it is time to pick one up again.

  4. This book is on my list. Nice review.

  5. thanks very much for the mention of my post on the book-I have read four of her works and liked them all-I would suggest you read Goodbye Tsugumi next-it was my first Yoshimoto and it is still my favorite-I have posted on it also-liked your review a lot

  6. This sounds so interesting, JoAnn! I can't say I really read much Japanese literature but this has really made me want to find out more about this author. What a brilliant review. And a gorgeous cover!

  7. I'm so glad you loved this one too! And that back cover is just too darling. :)

  8. This sounds like such a beautiful little book. I love the passages you share - they're so Banana Yoshimoto :)

    On a side note, I also won one of those lovely bookmarks from Bellezza and used it when reading Asleep :D

  9. This is the second time I've heard a great review of this one...will have to look for it!!

  10. This has been on my list for a LONG TIME. I don't even remember where I first heard about it, but someone convinced me. You just reaffirmed my notion that I need to find it and read it. 2010 will be my year!

  11. For some reason, I seem to have read a bunch of reviews of people who didn't like Kitchen, and I'm so refreshed to read yours! I felt about it the same way you did: entranced, and engaged, from the get go. I thought it very sad, and powerful that an author so young could write so eloquently. It's the only work of Banana's (that sounds so funny writing her name!) that I've read so far, but Nymeth has enticed me to read Asleep, and Mel continues to entice me to read more Japanese literature period, so I'll have to get going.

    I loved this review of yours, JoAnn, and I'm glad you have the bookmark, too.

  12. The Literary Stew - Go ahead and's short!

    Molly - As soon as I read the first paragraph, I knew that was how I needed to start my review. I learned about this author through the Japanese Literature challenge.

    Jackie - I think the writing style and tone will stay with me longer than the actual plot, so I understand what you mean.

    Book Bird Dog - Thank you. I hope you enjoy Kitchen, too!

    Mel U - I've just requested Goodbye Tsugumi from the library. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Rachel - This is my first experience with Japanese Literature, too, but I plan on reading more next year. Hope you decided to look into Banana Yoshimoto's work.

    Eva - I'm so glad my blogging friends have introduced me to her books. Thank you!

    Nymeth - I had literally dozens of passages marked! It was so hard to choose just a few and I may have gone a little over board ;-) ...and I just love the bookmark, too.

    Staci - Oh, I think you'd like this one!

    Sandy - I don't know how I missed hearing about Banana Yoshimoto before now. Hurray for those 2010 'determination' lists!

    Bellezza - Thank you so much - for hosting the challenge, the bookmark, and giving me the chance to learn about such great books and authors. I hope to read at least one more book before the challenge ends, but I will continue to explore Japanese literature even after it's over.

  14. I read this during the readathon and loved it. I've read Lizard years ago (loved) and Goodbye Tsugumi (liked somewhat), but Kitchen has to be my favourite of the lot.

  15. Hi JoAnn,
    I stopped by following the library loot trail of breadcrumbs and I'm so glad I did. I hadn't heard of The Kitchen or its author before, but after your review and those beautiful, insightful quotes, I'm convinced I have to read it! Thanks!

  16. I'm correcting myself on the title in my comment above. I realize now it is simply Kitchen. Sorry about that.

  17. How sad to be raised in love and still lonely. I've always loved this cover but wasn't so sure I would like the inside. Thanks, JoAnn for a great review, and for showing the back cover!

  18. Claire - Goodbye Tsugumi is coming from the library, but I know I'll be reading all of Yoshimoto's books. Kitchen may end up being my favorite, too, since it was my first.

    Christine - I'm so glad you followed that trail - thanks for stopping by! Sure hope you enjoy Kitchen, too. Stumbling across new books/authors is so much fun!

    Nan - That sentence almost made me cry...such a sad sentiment. I have a feeling her other books have some of that sadness in them, too. Glad you liked seeing the back cover, too.

  19. Fantastic review! I have this book on my tbr pile & am looking forward to reading it! It's great that you posted the back cover, you're right that it's too good to miss. Love how she handledthe picture.

  20. Amy - Thanks! I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of Kitchen. Glad you appreciated the cover, too - I thought it was so creative!

  21. "The writing is crisp and elegant, but tinged with sadness." -- I like the sound of that, very nice :)

    I keep hearing about Banana Yoshimoto and based on your review and that of others, it seems I'd have to start with Kitchen. Perhaps on the next Jap Lit challenge :)

  22. Mark David - I'm happy to have discovered Banana Yoshimoto... her writing style is so distinctive. Are you sure you want to wait until the next challenge to read her? ;-)

  23. Haha, you're right, I may not want to wait for the next challenge. After all, you did say it was slim. I might pick it up when I find a copy :)

  24. This truly sounds like a delightful read. I love the excerpts you provided.

  25. Justicejenniferreads - So glad you liked the quotes! I've just picked up another of Banana Yoshimoto's books, Goodbye Tsugumi, from the library.

  26. Question-do we know if the 3 stories in Asleep were written for the book of that name or were they assembled after the fact?

  27. Sorry, Mel. I don't know the answer to that one...


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