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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen (original 1988; edition 1994)

by Banana Yoshimoto

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3,017None1,879 (3.7)139
Authors:Banana Yoshimoto
Info:Washington Square Press (1994), Paperback, 152 pages
Collections:1001, Already Finished
Tags:1001, 2012

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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (1988)

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Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
loved it. both stories were beautiful. the second one was so sad and so delicate. thoroughly enjoyed them. ( )
  lloyd1175 | Mar 22, 2014 |
This is a wonderful book containing two tales of loss, love and loss of those loved. The first story lends it's name to the title and is the longer of the two. It was a gripping tale dealing with death, love and family. I enjoyed it greatly. The second story Moonlight Shadow was another beautiful tale of loss and personal growth. Kitchen did not allow time for me to make use of a bookmark but I feel it will stay with me for a long while. ( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
Kitchen contains two stories about loss and how crushing it can be, especially when you are young. Although this is a universal theme, it was interesting to read it from a Japanese perspective. The diction was strange, although this may be due to the translation. ( )
  Becky221 | Sep 21, 2013 |

A couple of days ago, I watched a film called Millenium Actress, a Japanese anime film centered around the life of a once wildly popular Japanese film star. I loved it for its lovely story as well as its wonderful animation, but most of all for its peculiar disregard of many of the 'rules' of film that I hadn't realized I unconsciously followed until they were subverted. This sort of bending and breaking of my own sensibilities into something I had never considered something that would work is rampant in this book here, on a much more heartbreaking level. As both the film and the book are Japanese, there could be a correlation that other partakers of that particular cultural entertainment would be familiar with, but I shy away from labeling it as something inherent on a sociocultural level. Instead, I will describe it on my own terms, and see what happens from there.

Kitchen is subsumed in grief. Each part of the story is centered around the death of one or more individuals, who through their passing have prompted the narrator and other characters to go forth on their own personal journeys of coming to grips with what has been left to them. What is missing, an absence that at first bewildered me but one that I now see as beneficial, is the pomp and circumstance that usually accompanies such events. There is no factoring in of all the usual aspects of funerals, mourning rituals, all those standards imposed upon individuals by the weight of tradition and the history of society. In a word, this story has no interest in the attempts of life to make death a thing that can not only be dealt with methods of logic, but also bureaucratic.

Instead, the words are short, sweet, and sharp, as each narrator falls upon their knife of grief and attempts to walk it off. Here, there is no sweeping away of the tragedy into a neat compartmentalization, a time to mourn and a time to thrive coexisting in carefully delineated measurements of a person's history. For how can the horror of a beloved one being taken away in such an unfairly abrupt and often nonsensical manner ever be reconciled, as if the matter could heal as cleanly as a broken bone knitting up in a predictable number of days? As if the evolution of coping with an overwhelming loss could be graphed for all affected, and therein calculate a formulaic equation specifically calibrated for speeding up the resolution as efficiently as possible. As if it was a lie that when it came down to it, one is alone and will always be alone with one's mind, and that is how the battle of mournful reconciliation must always be fought.

While it is true that there is always a banality to this process, it is also true that reality is sometimes stranger than fiction. And here, the overwhelming potential of storytelling chooses to direct its narrators and their tragedies along plots that reject the popular assumption of sadness having more believability than happiness. Unexpected acquaintances welcome stricken souls in for as long as they need a rest from the forceful expectations of reality. Methodologies of all sorts are taken up in the quest to come to terms with loss, whether it be cooking, running, crossdressing, or sex change surgery. The little beauties of seemingly mundane surroundings birth alongside the gaping holes that despair has left in the intermittent musings of daily life. Words such as 'weird' and 'strange' lose their potency in the face of the fact that, had these unusual and rather unbelievable circumstances never come to pass, another life may have joined the ones that had gone before it.

Would that have made the story better? Treating death with the cold dignity of normal proceedings, forbidding the thick interweave of both passionate joy and debilitating sorrow in the span of a short paragraph, scoffing at the small and sometimes magical coincidences that led others in unexpected ways to a life worth living? Should the path to reconciliation always be one of proud obligation, or can it be erratic, irresponsible, and sometimes even sweet?

The choice is always personal, and one must always make it on one's own. Me, I like the idea of a peculiar path being available to those who are faced with the death of a loved one, the most peculiar situation of all. If one is must decide how to live their life past the gap, shouldn't that life be their own? ( )
1 vote Korrick | Sep 12, 2013 |
Uh... hmm.

There are things I liked about these two stories. She has some good turns of phrase and a very spare-but-evocative style that reminds me of Murakami.

But. The trans character(s?). Ye gods.

Eriko. I think every mention of her made me cringe. Pretty sure Yoshimoto doesn't actually know the difference between a trans woman, a drag queen and a gay man. And also, hey, what do I know, but also pretty sure that most trans women don't "decide to become a woman" after their wife dies and they realize they will never love another woman or that they are too emotional to continue living as a man. And that's not even getting into the fact that literally every time Eriko comes up in conversation someone has to say "And that's hilarious because you're really a man, hahaha!"

Here's an actual example of dialog from the book:

"There aren't many men who will open a car door for a woman. I think it's really great."
"Eriko raised me that way," he said, laughing, "If I didn't open the door for her, she'd get mad and refuse to get in the car."
"Even though she was a man!" I said, laughing.
"Right, right, even though she was a man."


Oh and plus she gets brutally murdered in a hate-crime, because that's not what happens to every trans character ever. ("A crazy man became obsessed with her... Shocked to find out that this beautiful woman was a man... screaming that he had been made a fool of, he lunged at her with a knife.")

(I'm not going to talk about the other "trans" character, because he was actually just a cross-dresser, and that only sort of (he wore his girlfriend's clothes to feel closer to her after she died, or something like that, it's not really clear).)

OK so I get that this was written in 1988 and maybe I'm missing some cultural context, but still, massive ugh. I think if it wasn't for that I would probably have enjoyed the vague emotional writing and the fill-in-the-details-for-yourself style of storytelling and the weird uncommunicative romantic relationship between a couple of dysfunctional people, but the horrible caricatured trans stuff was just too distracting. ( )
2 vote wirehead | Jul 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
For English-language readers, the appeal of "Kitchen" lies in its portrayal of the lives of young Japanese.
Banana Yoshimoto won immediate fame in Japan with the publication of this pair of novellas about two bold and guileless women grappling with emotional loss.
Yoshimoto's oriental concision is sometimes idiosyncratic and haiku-like ..., but it's a quality of poignant, dignified resilience that makes this little work worthwhile...

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banana Yoshimotoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amitrano, GiorgioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaneshiro-Jager, E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schlecht, Wolfgang E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. (Kitchen)
Wherever he went, Hitoshi always had a little bell with him, attached to the case he kept his bus pass in. (Moonlight Shadow)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0671880187, Paperback)

Two stories, "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," told through the eyes of a pair of contemporary young Japanese women, deal with the themes of mothers, love, transsexuality, kitchens, and tragedy. Reprint. NYT.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:26 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Two stories, "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," told through the eyes of a pair of contemporary young japanese women, deal with the themes of mothers, love, transsexuality, kitchens, and tragedy.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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