When I signed up for the Japanese lit challenge (which I accidently forgot all about, but I’m fixing that now), I said the following about putting Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen: “I’ve been wanting to read Yoshimoto for awhile, partly because of her name (!), and partly because I’ve seen lots of good reviews. This is apparently her ‘most beloved’ work.” So now, I’m here to take the quotes off ‘most beloved’: this little book is simply incredible.
It’s divided into three fifty-page sections. The first two, Kitchen Parts One and Two, have completely seperate characters from the last called Moonlight Shadows. I didn’t know anything about the book going in, but I loved the cover straight off. Not only is the girl just adorable, but the back cover is a picture of the same girl from the back. Even the typeface for the title is cute, and the colours are some of my favourites.
Nevertheless, the cover-or Yoshimoto’s name-shouldn’t mislead you: this is not a piece of fluff by any imagination. The stories are of love and death and youth and the passing of youth and how people deal with all of those. They’re simply timeless and true and wonderful.
That should be enough to make you want to pick it up, but just in case it’s not, there’s also a definite sense of Japan in the stories. You don’t feel that they could take place anywhere else, and especially in the Kitchen parts, all of the talk of Japanese cuisine made me so hungry! And while Yoshimoto’s characters deal with universal human situations, they are very much individuals, waiting for the reader to fall in laugh with them. Also, while the themes are profound, the style is light and interesting-the female narrators combine sudden truths with young, silly observations, in a way that just makes you keep reading. And I refuse to say anything more specific, because you should go read these wonderful stories yourself. I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Yoshimoto in the future.
Have you ever been taken completely by surprise by a new author? Was it a good surprise?
She made me want to be with her again. There was a warm light, like her afterimage, softly glowing in my heart. That must be what they mean by “charm.” Like Helen Keller when she understood “water” for the first time, the word burst into reality for me, its living example before my eyes.
Even though they didn’t look alike, there were certain traits they shared. Their faces shone like buddhas when they smiled. I like that, I thought.
Sotaro had said that even though she’d been seeing him for a year, Yuichi’s girlfriend didn’t understand the slightest thing about him, and it made her angry. She said Yuichi was incapable of caring more for a girl than he did for a fountain pen.
Because I wasn’t in love with Yuichi, I understood that very well. The quality and importance of a fountain pen meant to him something completely different from what it meant to her. Perhaps there are people in this world who love their fountain pens with eveyr fiber of their being-and that’s very sad. If you’re not in love with him, you can understand him.
Everyone out on the streets was coming and going, looking happy, the light shining through their hair. Everything was breathing, increasingly sparkling, swathed in the gentle sunlight. The pretty scene was brimming with life, but my soul was pining for the desolate streets of winter and for that river at dawn. I wished my heart would break and get it over with.