Even though my expectations went one way, that's not really what Banana Yoshimoto delivers. This is a novella about deep, personal loss. About finding one's way out of the mire of grief and into the light. And falling in love.
Right down to the format, this book was surprising. Kitchen is longish. A novella. But there's also a short story tacked on called "Moonlight Shadow." So we'll take this review in two parts.
Kitchen is the story of a young woman named Mikage, college-aged, who loses her grandmother. A young man of the same age, Yuichi, invites Mikage to stay at his place with his mother and him while she's grieving so she won't be alone. His mother is really his father (a transvestite). But Mikage's loss is not the only one that happens in the book. Both of the young people experience and have to deal with it in their own ways, but they have each other.
Because I don't have the book with me, I borrowed this quote from Dolce Bellezza since she read and enjoyed this book back in 2007.
"When my grandmother died the other day, I was taken by surprise. My family had steadily decreased one by one as the years went by, but when it suddenly dawned on me that I was all alone, everything before my eyes seemed false. The fact that time continued to pass in the usual way in this apartment where I grew up, even though now I was here all alone, amazed me. It was total science fiction. The blackness of the cosmos.""Moonlight Shadow" has a more magical quality to it. Another young adult loses her boyfriend in a car accident. She deals with her emotions by running, and one morning while she's out on a jog, she meets a mysterious young woman who can show her glimpses of the other side and her lost love.
Once I accepted that this book wasn't really what I originally expected, I did enjoy it. Did it totally blow my skirt up? No. There were moments of great insight and lyrical writing, but there were also moments that made me cock my eyebrow like, "Wha?"
Anytime I've read Japanese literature in translation, I've wondered what I'm missing. What's lost in the transition from Japanese to English? Somehow I feel this loss more when I'm reading Japanese lit than any other language in translation.
Overall, it's a sweet, charming, touching book, but I am looking forward to trying some of Yoshimoto's longer work to see if it suits me a bit better.
Take a look at Bellezza's review if you have a chance! We both had some of the same impressions.
Pub. Date: Published in Japan in 1988; my edition in April 2006
Publisher: Grove Press
Source: Paperback Swap!