Book review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The English translation is available as two novellas in one book: Kitchen and then the shorter, Moonlight Shadow. In both stories young women are finding their way through the aftermath of the death of a loved one.

 

In Kitchen, Mikage, who has already lost both parents and a grandfather, is now reeling from the death of her grandmother. Finding herself alone in the world, she can only fall asleep when she lies on her grandmother’s kitchen floor but she knows she must move out of the too big, too expensive apartment.

 

Yuichi, a young friend of her grandmother’s invites Mikage to move in with him and his mother, Eriko. Eriko turns out to be Yuichi’s biological father who decided to live as a woman after Yuichi’s biological mother died.

 

For six months this trio of outsiders, wounded by grief and stalked by sorrow but held aloft by the glamorous and gutsy Eriko, create the happy family they crave. The happy family in turn does its job of providing Mikage the strength to find her passion and then go out into the world and follow it. However fate is not done with them yet.

 

This story, first published in 1988, is regarded as a classic of Japanese contemporary fiction. The descriptions of food are mouth-watering and the insights into modern Japanese life are interesting but it is Mikage’s musings about grief, loneliness and the transient nature of life that are utterly compelling.

 

Moonlight Shadow follows a woman of similar age to Mikage but she seems much younger. Her boyfriend has just died in a car crash. He was giving a lift to his brother’s girlfriend, who was also killed.

 

Food plays an important role here too, as does cross-dressing, but in place of philosophy there are touches of magic realism.

 

Read Moonlight Shadow first: there are lines to cherish and imagery that lingers. But save the best for last: the riches of Kitchen are worth looking forward to.

 

Image by dantada

First published in Issue 8 of Widows and Widowers magazine

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