Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Publication date: March 1994 (first published January 1988)
Publisher: Washington Square Press
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'Two stories, "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," told through the eyes of a pair of contemporary young Japanese women, deal with the themes of mothers, love, transsexuality, kitchens, and tragedy.
There are some books that you pick up and know that you’re going to love them. You don’t even read the summary on the book jacket or care what the book is about – you set your eyes on them and you know you need to read it. I was lucky enough to experience it with The Hunger Games, Just One Day, Poison Study, and now with Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto.
Kitchen consists of three stories: “Kitchen”, “Full Moon” (or “Kitchen”: part two), and “Moonlight Shadow”. The story of “Kitchen” deals with a girl’s loneliness after her grandmother’s death. Being left alone in the world, she finds solace in the form of kitchen and later, in the company of Tanabe family. I love the interactions between Mikage, the heroine, with the Tanabes. The Tanabes pick up Mikage as if she were a lost puppy, and they heal her heart like they water the plants in their apartment.
I loved the Tanabes’ sofa as much as I loved their kitchen. I came to crave sleeping on it. Listening to the quiet breathing of the plants, sensing the night view through the curtains, I slept like a baby. There wasn’t anything more I wanted. I was happy.
“Moonlight Shadow” is a story about a lover left alone after her boyfriend’s death. Her grief is so overwhelming she is almost drown in her sea of sadness. Satsuki, the main character, is coping by jogging in every dawn, while her boyfriend’s brother, Hiiragi, is coping of the loss of both her brother and her girlfriend by wearing his girlfriend’s uniform to school. The sadness is so profound in the story I almost felt I were the one experiencing it.
I love how Banana Yoshimoto-sensei seamlessly weaves tales of love, death, loss, and loneliness in her works but still manages to include threads of hope in the stories. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so attached to a character in 40 pages or so. I cared for them like they were my longtime friends, and I wished for their happiness in every page I flipped. Kitchen is so intimate, so beautiful. It was genuine sadness when the story was coming to end – why can’t it go longer? Like a real parting with friends, I don’t want to let them go yet. I even read the Afterword!
The gradual recovery of the characters is not rushed at all. It reminds me of plants, growing steadily with much love from sun and water. The writing might be deceptively simple, but it will touch your heart nonetheless. I guess there’s none of my words that can do justice in conveying the beauty of Kitchen. It’s the kind of book that you have to read yourself to find out. If you just immerse yourself in their world – you would understand why so many readers, including me, fall head over heels in love with Kitchen.
”With a cold”—she spoke evenly, lowering her eyes a little—“now is the hardest time. Maybe even harder than dying. But this is probably as bad as it can get. You might come to fear the next time you get a cold; it will be as bad as this, but if you just hold steady, it won’t be. For the rest of your life. That’s how it works. You could take the negative view and live in fear: Will it happen again? But it won’t hurt so much if you just accept it as a part of life.”
5 cups of tea!
I wish I could rewind the experience reading this over and over.