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.
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.
When I love a book, I give myself some time to let my thoughts brew and write my review in a day or two. Sometimes, that day comes never. That is what happens to my favorite books and I never get around to write those amazing 5 star reviews. But here I am, finally attempting to talk about one of such books – Agatha Christie’s And then there were none.
Characters: Justice Lawrence John Wargrave, Vera Elizabeth Claythorne, Philip Lombard, General John Gordon Macarthur, Dr Edward George Armstrong, Anthony James Marston, William Henry Blore, Mr Thomas Rogers, Mrs Ethel Rogers, Emily Caroline Brent, Isaac Morris, Fred Narracott.
Eight strangers are invited to a private island near the coast of Devon, England by an eccentric millionaire, Mr Owen. The guests are welcomed by a cook and a butler. But their host is nowhere to be seen and they realize none of them know him well.
All they find is a framed copy of an old nursery rhyme with the tale of ten soldiers who one by one leave, disappear or die until none of them are alive. Everyone is intrigued to find ten figurines depicting the ten soldiers in their dining room.
At dinner, a voice booms that every one of them was guilty of murder and they will all be dead soon. Immediately one of them chokes on their drink and dies. And then they find that one of the figurine is broken. Soon one by one each of the guests begin dying, following theme of the childhood rhyme.
Each of them starts suspecting the other, as they are all stranded in secluded island. Who is the murderer and who survives their stay forms the rest of the book ‘And then there were none’ by Agatha Christie.
And then there were none Book review
For me, And then there were none would be one of the best mystery ever written. I read this for the first time when I was around 13 years old and it was not a surprise that I was not able to solve the whodunnit.
Incidentally, I forgot about this book for about another five years until I gave it another read in my late teens. I still didn’t solve it but that’s when I realized how much I loved it. I keep reading it once in a while and it has never lost its charm on me.
And to make matter worse (or better) it has become a sort of benchmark to compare the other mystery novels and ‘whodunnits‘. There have been numerous adaptations based on And then there were none by Agatha Christie, and frankly none of them are closer to the book.
Things that worked for me
There are so many mini plots within the story that makes it hard to guess the murderer.
The murders get more and more exciting as it follows an old rhyme and everyone has a theory that someone else’s involved.
I liked the strong emphasis on ‘fair’ justice system, even if it meant eye for an eye. I understand it is a fantasy but it sounds so good.
Things that didn’t work for me
I don’t think anyone could guess the murderer on their first read. I mean there are literally no clues, but many many red herrings, you have been warned!.
There are so many characters that you stop feeling related to them, in a while. There are, more or less, no descriptions for any of the characters.
Unfortunately, there is a huge plot hole which is a part of the solution. But it is kinda easy to ignore it (at least it was for me).
The book obviously feels dated but the casual racism and sexism might should turn you off.
Casual racism, Sexism.
I consider And then there were none as a masterpiece and I am sure everyone would love it. I can’t recommend it enough. If you are going to read only one Christie’s in your life, choose And then there were none.
Let us chat
What is your favorite Agatha Christie novel? Have you read And Then There Were None? Let us chat about my And Then There Were None book review.
I read The Vegetarian a while ago as a part of the A-Z challenge 2018 and yet I couldn’t post a review as soon as I would usually. I can blame my erratic blogging schedule but the truth is The Vegetarian by Han Kang left me so confused and perplexed that I had to step back and mull over what to say.
Watch out for my 100th review!
Yet I can’t think of a better fitting book that I have read in the recent times than The Vegetarian to be my 100th review on my blog. Yes, you heard it right. This would be my ONE HUNDREDTH review on this blog.
The Vegetarian talks of how cultural and societal norms make or break a person’s individuality and define one’s perspective. The Vegetarian consists of three parts Yeong-Hye’s past, present and future, from the perspectives of her husband, her brother in law and her sister Kim In-Hye.
In a country where meat is a staple food, Yeong-Hye stops eating meat, a reaction to the bloody nightmares that she had been facing every night. Until then a passive and unassuming wife, Yeong’s decision is criticized by everyone in the family including her father who even tries to force feed her some meat.
My initial thoughts
The more I read, the more intriguing (bizarre, even?) the book became. And given that it is such a short book, I finished it fairly fast, even when I had to re-read some parts to make sure ‘that’ really happened. Let us get on with the review, shall we?
The Vegetarian is the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2016 among many other awards. If this had gone by my usual luck with award books, I would have been bored by about 20% of the book and still be compelling myself to continue to struggle to the end. WELL, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN.
Just like that Yeong turns from ordinary, according to her abusive and shallow husband Mr. Cheong, to aberrant. What follows is the aftermath of her decision (to be become a The Vegetarian, rather a vegan) and how her family reacts to it. Watch out, The Vegetarian is not an easy read. It will make you question your fundamental assumptions.
The Vegetarian is on the surface a parable on how far can one go to stay put on one’s belief.
But it talks more about the sexism and status of women in a patriarchal society like Korea and other South Asian countries in a pliable and compliant role. The men in Yeong’s life, and thus the novel, are all disgusting in one form or the other and maybe that played a part in her decision to change her life into a ‘plant like’ being.
If you want to read something that has a simple yet lyrical writing, yet will make you think about your judgmental self you should pick The Vegetarian by Han Kang. But be wary of triggering content – like sexual and physical assaults, extra marital affairs and mental illness. You won’t be disappointed.
Let us talk
Have you read this book earlier? Does this book depict life in South Korea? Are there any other books set in South Korea that you have read? What books have you read this week?
Quite recently, I suffered through what I refer as ‘the longest reading slump‘ period, for about three months. That is when a good friend of mine suggested Chess Story by Stefan Zweig. To be honest, he sold it hard and it took me a while to pick the book. But boy, was I surprised!
Chess Story begins with the narrator, an Austrian, boarding the ship that travels from New York to Buenos Aires. On board is, Czentovic, the World Chess Champion who spends his time challenging the other travelers in a game of chess and earning a bit of money. The passengers come together to play against him and still lose.
We learn about Czentovic’s humble beginning and how he reaches his heights by sheer brute force and hard-work. He is unapologetic, unfriendly and boorish. He understands what is at stake when he plays every game and plays to show off his supremacy over the game.
During one of such games in the afternoon, a mystery man called Mr. B manages to help the group win an upset against Czentovic. Mr. B is a noble Jewish banker who is humbled by his wartime experiences.
During the World War II, he was restrained by the Gestapos him between the walls of his cell, interrogating for information regarding the wealth of his clients, his only companion being a stolen anthology of 150 chess games. He reads and memorizes the moves and that became obsession later mania to get him through his period of imprisonment. Intrigued and miffed by Mr. B’s act, Czentovic challenges him to play the royal game against him. which forms the rest of the story.
Book review of Chess Story
I sure hoped for Mr. B to win the game with his ingenuity and supreme intelligence, against the unfriendly and boorish World Champion – you know ‘let the underdog win’ argument?
But I would just warn you already, prepare for the twist and a depressing ending. I think it is now safe to inform the author committed suicide just weeks after he finished the novella. So be warned.
Someone said that the mark of a good book is it changes every time you read. I can safely say Chess Story is definitely one of such books.
For someone who reads the book for the first time, it is a story between the blacks and whites of Chess Story board, where there are no grey shades. The hard work vs the tacts. The lyrical prose, despite being a translated work, will make you compelled to read it again and it being just an 84 paged novella would help.
But sometime during my second reading (shortly after Christmas, yeah just days before this review), I found another layer unraveling itself. It became more than the game, but of the personalities that clashed between. Zweig’s understanding of human nature is spot on.
And knowing about his death made it all the more difficult to digest the ending, despite knowing what was going to happen.
I cannot gush enough about Chess Story and I have recommended the book to many people now. If you want to move on to literary fiction but do not know where to start, or want to read something that would not put you off those kinda books – Chess Story is your answer.
It is, for me, a perfect novella with complex characters and a beautiful prose.