Thursday, September 19, 2013

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Sometimes we have a pre-conceived idea of what a book will be. And sometimes, as in my case, the pre-conceived notion is based on absolutely nothing. I admit it! I saw the title, Kitchen, and my mind went to something like Relish from Lucy Knisley. Something warm and fuzzy and foodie. 

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
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780802142443
Source: Paperback Swap!


19 comments:

  1. It's so true that, even with all the reviews/blurbs/excerpts we have around us, I'll sometimes still have total misconceptions about books based solely on their covers or titles. Sorry this one wasn't a total thrill, but three cheers for Paperback Swap!

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    1. Right? I have no idea how that happens except that I read so many blurbs I remember snatches and then they get all wonky. Cheers for Paperback Swap indeed!

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  2. I've never read Yoshimoto and thought this would be a good book to start with. Still, I'm a little intimidated and I'm not sure why.

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    1. It's a quick read. Just go into it with a more open mind than I did and you'll be good. :)

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  3. I enjoyed this a few years ago, and was inspired buy a couple more of her books. Sadly, they are still unread...

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    1. Story of my life, too. I will be looking into more of her work, though I have no idea where to go from here.

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  4. I've honestly never had the inclination to read this. Does that make me a lame reader? Japanese literature terrifies the pants off me. I own many Japanese novels but have yet to read a single effing one.

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    1. Not at all! Japanese lit can be intimidating. The only Japanese lit I've read off the top of my head is Murakami (love) and Ogawa (love). So really no reason to be intimidated. Thinking of tackling The Makioka Sisters next.

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  5. I had started to read Lake at some point, I think that is the title and her writing didn't pull me in as I had hoped it would. I never did finish that one.

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    1. Yeah, it took me a while to really get invested. I thought I could finish this in a day, but no go.

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  6. I enjoyed this book and thought it was a great example of how emotionally powerful short stories can be. I thought that Yoshimoto explored the concepts of loss, despair, and sadness so eloquently with her two stories. I do admit to feeling rather disconnected from the stories, but I think it was the emotional pull I felt that made me engage with the book. I do sometimes wonder how much gets lost in translation and have often wished that I could read Japanese, just so I could get the full meaning of each story. Maybe one day...:) I'm glad you finally read Yoshimoto!

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    1. Amen sister! I would agree with that. After I got over myself and accepted Yoshimoto's writing and not my pre-conceived (wrong!) notions. And I seem to always feel a sense of disconnectedness or Otherness from Japanese writing. The majority of translations I've read have that sense of spareness that makes me feel disconnected. That's why I SO wish I could read the originals to understand better where that comes from.

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  7. I think reading and enjoying Japanese literature is partly dependent on a great translation, but maybe equally dependent on a familiarity with Japanese culture. So glad you read this one - you inspired me to mark it as a re-read!

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    1. I agree. And from what I know of the culture, the things I've read seem to fall in line with it. A sense of clarity and spareness that seems to go along with Japanese culture at large. Again, what I know of it. I wish I knew more!

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  8. Sounds like you enjoyed this one more than you initially did, remembering what you were saying on Twitter at the beginning.

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    1. Yep, I was STRUGGLING on Twitter. lol

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  9. Oh, this sounds interesting. I don't read a lot of Japanese literature. I should read more, and a novella may be the right way to dip my toes in a little deeper.

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    1. I aim to read more diverse literatures in 2014, including more Japanese works. I have The Makioka Sisters on my radar right now. Who knows what else will crop up.

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  10. I've read Goodbye Tsugumi by Yoshimoto. I liked it, didn't love it. Didn't find it a struggle to read though.

    Thinking of translations of Japanese lit, I was just reading an old review of mine of Murukami's After Dark. I had a lot of difficulty with that translation - the dialogue sounded all wrong, and kind of hokey in its use of English slang.

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