Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (thoughts on rereading)
As I was staring at my library books, trying to decide on my first read of the new year, I happened to see that several of them were due on January 2nd. Too many to read in such a short time, but that did help me narrow the list, and in the end I thought I should go with a trusted favourite to start the new year off right. I was in a dreamy, thoughtful mood, so I couldn’t resist pulling Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto off the shelf. I read it for the first time, amusingly enough, at the very beginning of 2009! It launched my love of Yoshimoto, and since then I’ve also read Hardboiled & Hard Luck, Goodbye, Tsugumi, and The Lake. So I was eager to revisit this one, her debut, and see if it was still my favourite.
Well, it is! At first, I was a bit worried; the language style felt a bit more casual and slang-y than I remembered it. But soon it settled into a rhythm, and I was lost again in Yoshimoto’s haunting, elegiac world. While I still love the title novella, especially the final scene, I really cherished “Moonlight Shadows” this time around. It’s set in a Tokyo winter and centers around a young woman caught up in grief due to the sudden, tragic death of her boyfriend a few months earlier. Every morning, she jogs through the park because she can’t sleep and doesn’t want to think. But one morning, she meets a mysterious stranger on the bridge, one who seems a bit magical. It’s a ghost story, which is probably part of why I loved it, but the mix of nostalgia and hope, deep heartbreak with renewed faith, seemed just right for this time of year. We’ve just passed the darkest days of winter, in the Northern hemisphere at least, and while we might not see much evidence yet, the day is gaining a bit more with each sunrise and sunset. To sit curled up under a blanket, watching winter through my window, with a hot cup of tea and a beautiful book, is such a privilege. And yet, it’s also one that I only have because I’m too ill to work but have parents who support me. That knowledge doesn’t spoil my experience, or the scene, but it does change the flavour a bit. I suspect Yoshimoto would understand that and know how to put it into words, better than I can myself. All I know is that I’m tempted to make Kitchen a new year tradition, and in the mean time I’ll continue happily reading the rest of her novels. She manages to mix quirky characters and young narrative voices with emotional quandaries and gently-described scenes that go straight to my heart. And that is something to treasure.
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Translator by Leila Aboulela (This slim novel had a similar focus on love and grief.)
- Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni (Another Japanese novel that deeply affected me and had quirky characters with unconventional relationships.)
- Troll: a Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo (A thoughtful little Finnish book that features unusual love and a hint of the supernatural.)
(P.S.: my hands are not amused, so I’m going on a typing fast until Sunday. I’m still reading blogs and e-mails and the comments I get here, but I won’t be replying for awhile. And I won’t be on Twitter. Thanks for understanding! -Eva)
(P.P.S.: I tried taking my own cover photo for this post, because I always admired it when Claire of Kiss a Cloud did so. I’m obviously not at her level, but let me know if you think I should just use stock publisher cover images instead!)