Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Translated from Japanese by Megan Backus
Grove Press, New York, 1993
Oh, what a book! Kitchen is a combination of a novella and a short story. Simply and beautifully written, they present emotions in a way that is direct and clear, never simpering or overly sweet. Both tell of loss, love and family and I moved through then easily. Sometimes the words felt like a warm breeze, sometimes like a sudden shower. Yoshimoto’s storytelling is magic, reading this book I did not expect the depth I found there. So subtle, so simple, it all snuck up on me.
Kitchen is the story of Mikage, a young women who has lost most of her family. She lives with her Grandmother, but is always aware of the possibility of loss.
The space that cannot be filled, no matter how cheerfully a child and an old person are living together – the deathly silence that, panting in the corner of the room, pushes its way in like a shutter. I felt it very early, although no one told me about it. From page 21.
When her Grandmother dies she is invited by a friend to join him and his mother in their home. These kind people help Mikage open herself to memories and emotions.
In the uncertain ebb and flow of time and emotions much of one’s life history is etched in the senses. And things of no particular importance, or irreplaceable things, can suddenly resurface in a cafe one winter night. From page 75.
Part of this novella are strangely chilling. Maybe it is the shadows of Mikage’s past, like ghosts, that create this effect.
The second part of this little book is a short story, Moonlight Shadow, also about love and loss. It reads like a fairy tale.
In retrospect I realize that fate was a ladder on which, at the time, I could not afford to miss a single rung. To skip out on even one scene would have meant never making it to the top, although it would have been by far the easier choice. What motivated me was probably that little light still left in my half-dead heart, glittering in the darkness. Yet,without it, perhaps, I might have slept better. From page 127.
While reading this book I kept thinking of the fall of cherry blossoms in Kurosawa’s Dreams. Kitchen is that beautiful.