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Kitchen (A Black cat book) Paperback – April 17, 2006
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In a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, "Kitchen" and its companion story, "Moonlight Shadow," are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a very special writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.
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"Kitchen" follows a young woman after the death of her grandmother as she tries to find happiness and direction again. The writing is simple and at times short, but it seems fitting to someone who is grieving and gave the narrator an even stronger voice. I found the narrators love of kitchens especially charming and real. The thoughts and actions of the characters seemed so relatable and normal, like things I would do and say in the same situation.
I found the second story "Moonlight Shadow" to be even more touching and graceful. I underlined a good portion of the end, saving it up for my own purposes because the writing was that striking. In this story, Yoshimoto writes about a girl who has lost her boyfriend and thinks back on their memories as she tries to keep living.
I'd highly recommend this book. It was an easy read, done in a day, but the content was enough to keep me thinking far longer than that.
As Mikage is contemplating what to do next, Yuichi Tanabe, a classmate who helped out at her grandmother's funeral, visits her. He invites Mikage to come stay with him and his "mother." Yuichi's mother Eriko turns out to be a transgendered former male (Yuichi's father). She works in a nightclub. With no particular plan or direction, Mikage decides to take up the offer and spends long days alone contemplating the ceiling while Yuichi is at class and Eriko away at work or sleeping.
Mikage adjusts to life at the Tanabe's and comes to value the friendship of these odd, nonconforming Japanese. Yuichi is moody and depressive, a needy soul who becomes deeply attached to Mikage's friendship. Eriko's style is high camp. She loves making frivolous purchases, especially electronic gadgets. Eriko loves Mikage with a kind of offbeat quasi-maternal affection. The household is shocked when Eriko is killed, murdered at the nightclub where she works.
While she is staying at the Tanabe's Mikage purchases a set of instruction books on cooking and immerses herself in a serious attempt to become a skilled cook. After Eriko's death, when she comes back to the Tanabe apartment and spends a few days with Yuichi, she prepares an enormous meal of numerous courses, which they devour over several hours.
Not long after Eriko's death, Mikage finds a dream job as an assistant to a well-known culinary author and television personality. She is asked to accompany the sensei and other staff on a trip to Izu Peninsula to sample the local cuisine. Mikage jumps at the chance.
Mikage leaves for Izu, but once there she phones Yuichi who has gone to an inn not far from Izu to be alone. He complains about the food at the inn, which consists entirely of tofu dishes. Mikage happens on a katsudon shop where the specialty is exquisitely prepared. On an impulse, she orders an extra portion to go, hails a cab and makes a lengthy trip to Yuichi's inn. He is surprised, eats the katsudon and declares it to be the best he has every tasted. Before she leaves to ride the waiting cab back to Izu, Mikage tells him obliquely that she would like their relationship to grow and deepen.
When she returns, Mikage receives a phone call from Yuichi who has gone to great pains to find out where she is staying. He asks her for her time of return to Tokyo and the platform where her train will arrive, promising to meet her. On this upbeat, optimistic note the story closes.
Kitchen is a GenX novel, its youthful characters severed from traditional relationships: family, marriage, career. In their place, they form deep, if not necessarily permanent, bonds of friendship, based on mutual help and acceptance between people struggling to get by in a fragmented world.
The kitchen serves as a symbol of peace and comfort, a place where Mikage can forget the difficulties that she faces and lose herself in her artistic creation. It also brings together the disparate personalities in a union based on shared enjoyment of food. Banana Yoshimoto handles this with great warmth and sensitivity. Her short debut novel makes for a touching, uplifting read.