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Kitchen (thoughts)

January 3, 2009

Japanese Lit ChallengeWhen 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.

kitchenThat 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?

Notable Passages
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.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2009 3:49 pm

    This is one that I definitely want to read! It sounds fantastic. I’ve been wanting to read some of her work too. I’ve been taken by surprise by many authors…I just can’t think of them right now :/ But it’s one of the best feelings!

  2. January 3, 2009 4:25 pm

    This sounds so amazing. I had a so-so first experience with her, but a couple of months ago I read Goodbye Tsugumi and fell in love with it. The themes were actually some of the same: love, death, loss, youth, the passing of time. The writing was incredible, and judging by the passages you shared here, that’s also the case with Kitchen.

    So yeah…this is definitely going to be my next book by her.

  3. January 3, 2009 4:47 pm

    I will definitely try her work. Thanks for recommending her.

  4. January 3, 2009 5:16 pm

    While I’ve heard of this book before, this is the first review I’ve read. And what a lovely review it was! Thank you, Eva. I very much want to read it now.

  5. January 3, 2009 5:29 pm

    I tried to get this book from my library today, but they did not have it in their catalog. So, I picked up ‘Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale’ by Nagai Kafu instead. But, I do hope to eventual get hold of a copy of ‘Kitchen’, I’ve been hearing many positive reviews about her work.

  6. January 3, 2009 6:21 pm

    I read something by her long time ago, so long that I don’t remember the title. Kitchen sounds great, especially the Japanese food part. I’ll track it down!

  7. January 3, 2009 8:29 pm

    This sounds yummy. :) I’ve read, recently, Goodbye Tsugumi, and a long long time ago, Lizard. Lizard is also a collection of short stories and I remember there were some really beautiful passages.

    I love Japanese lit. Didn’t see this challenge before. I’m thinking.. should I add it? (Oh no not another one.. Ha ha..)

  8. January 3, 2009 9:25 pm

    I loved this collection also!

  9. January 4, 2009 3:12 am

    Chris, you should! And her books are short! :)

    Nymeth, which book was so-so, so I can avoid it? I’ll try Goodbye Tsugumi next!

    Sandra, I hope you enjoy it. :)

    Debi, yay!

    Rakisha, too bad your library doesn’t have it. :( But I’ll look forward to your review of the geisha book-I’ve read Memoirs of a Geisha, but of course that’s not written by a Japanese author.

    Matt, lol-I hate it when I can’t remember the books I’ve read! (That’s why I started a book blog, lol.) There’s definitely a lot of food in the stories-I don’t know anything about Japanese cuisine outside sushi, so it was neat. :)

    Claire, if you love Japanese lit you’ll have to give me some more recommendations! I hadn’t really tried it before this challenge, but I think I’m hooked. The challenge ends this month, if that affects your sign-up decision. :)

    Beastmomma, yay for kindred readers!

  10. January 4, 2009 4:16 am

    Eva – not an author I’ve ever tried so thanks for the great review, I’m now seriously tempted!

  11. January 4, 2009 8:05 am

    I’ve read one other review, which although less enthusiastic, still piqued my interest. Thanks for the reinforcement!

  12. January 4, 2009 1:10 pm

    I keep meaning to get this book. I read Goodbye Tsugumi and really enjoyed the simple way such a moving subject was dealt with. I have also read Hardboiled/Hardluck – 2 novellas in oe book – one was so-so and the other was great.

  13. January 4, 2009 3:03 pm

    Too bad about the Japanese lit challenge. :( I hope there is another one.

    I haven’t read many Japanese authors, but all of the ones I have I absolutely loved. Top on my list is Kenzaburo Oe. And then Yasunari Kawabata and Kazuo Ishiguro. Haruki Murakami I have only read once and just last year, he’s my least favourite so far but I still enjoyed him. Also, I recommend The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.

    I still hope to read the Tale of Genji someday. :)

  14. January 4, 2009 4:20 pm

    Bride of the Book God, I hope you enjoy her if I try it! :)

    JenClair, no problem-and it’s so good to see you around the blogosphere again. :D

    Katrina, between you and Nymeth, Goodbye Tsugumi is definitely nexto n my Yoshimoto list!

    Claire, this was its second year, so I bet it’ll have a third year too. :) Thanks for the recommendations-I love Ishiguro as well! And I’ve read Tanizaki’s Naomi and enjoyed it, so I’ll be on the lookout for Makioka Sisters. I’ve only read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, which everyone says isn’t typical of his work, but I really liked it. It also had one of my favourite quotes ever: “How much do you love me?” “Enough to melt all the tigers in teh world into butter.” I’ve got a library edition that combines Snow Country and A Thousand Cranes on my nightstand right now. And I’ve never heard of Kenzaburo Oe, so I’ll look into him (her?)! Thanks for all of the recommendations. :D I haven’t read Tale of the Genji, but I have a historical novel-The Tale of Murasaki-based on Genji on my TBR case. :)

  15. January 4, 2009 4:36 pm

    I don’t want to read your review because I don’t want to know anything about this book! I got it from the library but, unfortunately, had to return it before I got a chance to read it. It’s one of the first on my list of books to request when I get back in town, so I can’t wait!

    – Lu

  16. January 10, 2009 5:12 pm

    So good to read your thoughts on this one! I really liked it. It seemed like such a simple story but really there’s so much going on. I still need to review it and hopefully I can get one more book read before the challenge is over.

  17. January 12, 2009 12:09 am

    Lu, I don’t really tell you anything about the book except that it’s really good. ;)

    Iliana, I’m glad you agreed. :) I’m hoping to get to one more Japanese book this month, but we’ll see how it goes.

  18. January 12, 2009 6:23 pm

    There are a couple of challenges I would like to forget about…lol! Especially when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. My fault, I know. Great review! :)


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