July 31, 2008
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus
1988 Washington Square Press
Finished on 7/30/08
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)
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!).
With the publication of Kitchen, the dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, the literary world realized that Yoshimoto was a young writer of enduring talent whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of contemporary Japanese literature. Kitchen is an enchantingly original book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.
In a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, "Kitchen" and its companion story, "Moonlight Shadow," are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a very special writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.
Bellezza loved this book and after reading her review, I thought I would, too. I was so surprised when she sent me a copy and I couldn't wait to read it. Unfortunately, it pains me to say that it just wasn't my cuppa tea. It was full of so much loneliness and hopelessness, that I struggled to continue reading to the end. I kept thinking I just needed to give it more time, but I found myself plodding along simply because my good friend was kind enough to send me the book.
I guess it's a case of "vanilla versus chocolate." I know Bellezza and I have quite a lot in common, but I'll bet she's a lover of chocolate ice cream. Personally, I prefer vanilla.
I would be very happy to pass on the kindness I was shown and send this to someone who thinks they might enjoy it. Just leave a comment by Wednesday night and I'll draw a name from the hat.
For further reading, go here for an interview with Banana Yoshimoto.