April 17, 2015

Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Review of the novel Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
How can such short stories be filled with so much emotion? This was the first thought that came to mind when I finished reading Kitchen and indeed this book was an emotional rollercoaster. Both of the stories were deeply touching and heartfelt, although they were short and concise.

Kitchen, the first and longest story included in the publication, is about a young woman named Mikage, who has lost her grandmother. She struggles to get over the grief, but it's too difficult for her because she's left alone in the world, without another blood relation. But she finds hope when she moves in with a young friend of his grandmother, Yuichi, and his mother Eriko. After that she slowly gets closer to both of them, she finds a job and a new apartment. When tragedy comes to Yuichi she has to make an important decision if she will stand beside him or let him deal with it alone. 

In its core Kitchen is a love story, although death and loss and how to go on living after such a difficult situation are present all the time. But there is not a great dramatic gesture or a confession, or even sweet loving words. The feelings develop under the surface and the understanding comes from little gestures, like sometimes happens in real life. Sometimes to bring a takeout is enough, in order to convey the feeling of wanting to be together even if everything is so uncertain.

While Mikage is dreaming she has a deep conversation with Yuichi and they end up singing the above song. A simple act and a simple dream, but the next morning she learns that Yuichi himself had the same dream and their conversation was real in a telepathetic kind of way. It's fascinating to see how at home they feel with each other, even though they are in tough situations.

Mikage, Yuichi and Eriko are all likable characters. Although this isn't a novel in order to get to know their personalities very well, there is a deep connection with them. Their loneliness is profound and their thoughts on death are the ones that move them. They all had terrible losses and that's the reason why they can truly feel alive. Eriko is the most perplex character, as a transgender her life has been complicated. When she was a man she had met her true love, Yuichi's mother, but when she lost her she decided that she didn't want to be a man anymore. When Mikage meets her, she is a woman that always tries to achieve the things that she wants and is making everyone feel happy with her positive aura.

Moonlight Shadow as the author informs us was inspired by the song of Mike Oldfield with the same title. The theme is similar to that of the one in Kitchen. But, what is more important in this story is closure, a chance to say a proper goodbye to the loved ones you have lost. Indeed, Satsuki has lost her boyfriend in an accident and she barely deals with the fact. One day she meets a mysterious woman, who invites her to a peculiar phenomenon. The last time ever she saw him/ Carried away by a moonlight shadow and how much do regrets hurt. If only she had talked to him and told him not to go as he walked away, he would still be alive. But his back fading in the mist is her last image of her boyfriend and that peculiar phenomenon lets her say goodbye to him in that very spot. If she manages to ever let go we don't learn, but now we feel that the possibility is there.  

Kitchen is a book that touched me, made me cry and feel hope at the same time. It's highly recommended to anyone who is in for an emotional read. 

So, my advice is...

A lighthouse in the distance
To the two of us in the night
The spinning light looks like
Sunshine through the branches of trees 


  1. This book seems pretty interesting. I always love it when books have a profound emotional impact on you, and it looks like this one definitely might. The story doesn't look too remarkable, but I find that quite often a simple story can make the emotions all the more intense. I might give this a go if I can grab a copy.

    I also see you're reading Kafke On The Shore, which is quite a coincidence because I just bought another book by Murakami earlier today, Norweigan Wood. He's an author that I've wanted to try for a while so I'm really looking forward to it!

    Great review as always!

    1. I find this a common trait of many japanese authors, to make such small incidents mean so much. This is one of the reason I really like japanese literature. Kitchen was a pleasant surprise for me, in the end I was only thinking "why didn't I read this eatlier?"

      I've read Norwegian Wood and I'm pretty confident that you're going to like it. But beware, it's a dark book and it will make feel really, really bad. Kafka on the Shore seems interesting too and I hope it will be a good follow-up.

      Thank you for commentig :)

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