There is something with South East Asian Literature that I can’t put my finger to, they always leave me confused whether I like them or not. I picked Kitchen by Yoshimoto worrying if I will get it, especially seeing that it has several raving reviews on Goodreads.
I didn’t want to read the blurb and jumped directly into the book. Read on to know how that went.
About the book
Book Name: Kitchen
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Characters: Mikage Sakurai, Yuichi and Eriko Tanabe
Kitchen begins with Mikage Sakurai grieving the death of her grandmother, in their kitchen. Yuichi and his mother Eriko takes her in as she has no other family left. Mikage throws herself into cooking and food, which becomes part of her heart and dreams.
Eriko is a transvestite, who runs a gay night club and lives with her son Yuichi who studies at Uni. He was a man for a long time until his wife died and then he changes ‘her face and her everything’ with the help of operations. The busy mother – son gets closer to Miakge through her home cooked dinners, until Mikage moves away to pursue her culinary dreams.
A few months later Eriko is murdered by a smitten man. Tides change and it is now Yuichi that has to face the loss and grief. How Mikage helps Yuichi to cope with the loss and how her passion for food keeps the friends sane forms the rest of the story in Kitchen.
Kitchen is followed by a shorter tale named Moonlight Shadow in which the theme of grief and loss of beloved ones continue. Satsuki lost her boy friend Hitsohi to an unforeseen road accident. She picks up running to push her sorrows away. Hitoshi’s brother who lost his girlfriend in the same accident dresses in her favorite costume as a cope up mechanism.
Satsuki meets Urara who tells her a way that can help her find a closure. Read the story to know if they find what they seek.
My initial thoughts
Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is full of eccentric characters and I can’t think of a better word than weird right now to describe the plot.
The leads in both the tales attempt to seek hope and overcoming of their destitution after the death. But how they attain that is way different.
Though both the stories are very minimal and to the point, I loved them like a fresh breath of air. Some stories make us long for more but Kitchen in all its incompleteness felt complete. I don’t want to know what Satsuki or Yuichi, who stayed in my mind long after I finished reading, did anymore because I know (and hope) they will be better.
Here is where I am lost. I dunno if I love or hate Yoshimoto’s writing. There were places when the writing felt right and there were places that were just off. I might have to read more of Yoshimoto’s to conclude whether it was the writing or the translation that failed to make me love it. Or maybe that was how the book was intended to be.
Things that worked for me
- The simplistic narration talks about ordinary people leading a mundane life but had profound effect on me.
- Yoshimoto’s writing is not polished or lyrical, in fact it does not even mince words (but that might be just the translation), yet the simple prose hits the point at most places.
- I loved the usage of Kitchen as a metaphor and letting it play a character in the story.
Things that didn’t work for me
- Kitchen is not a plot driven novel. And if you are looking for one with lots of twists and turns, you will be severely disappointed.
- I felt the translation seemed off at places but I am not sure if it was intentional.
- I am still not sure if the usage of transvestite and transgender is accurate. I think they were used interchangeably in the book, I might be wrong.
If you liked The Vegetarian by Han Kang, you might like Kitchen as well. You may like this one or not, but I am sure it will leave a lasting memory either way, just like it did for me.
Let us talk
Have you read this or anything from Japan? Do you like books that are not plot oriented? What other countries do you like me to read about? Let us talk.