Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: A Profound Connection Between Food, Grief, and the Human Spirit

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Book Review of Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto


Neelam Sharma
Author: Banana Yoshimoto


There’s a certain allure to Japanese literature—a magical surreality that captivates the heart and mind. Within the confines of a few words, Japanese authors seem to conjure entire universes, inviting readers to bask in the sunshine of life’s minutiae while peeking into its melancholic depths. “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto is one such literary gem, a small pink book that wields an astonishingly persuasive and captivating hold, both gentle and irresistible.

At its heart, “Kitchen” is a poignant coming-of-age tale that revolves around Mikage Sakurai, a young woman wrestling with the profound loss of her beloved grandmother. The narrative deftly navigates the intricate dance between grief and self-discovery, all against the comforting backdrop of the kitchen—a place where memories linger and nourishment extends beyond mere food, weaving into the fabric of cherished relationships.

As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again, I will suffer; again and again, I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won’t let my spirit be destroyed.

Yoshimoto’s writing possesses a unique ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia and longing. From the very first page, readers are transported into Mikage’s world, where ordinary moments and everyday objects take on a transcendental significance. Yoshimoto’s prose is delicate yet potent, weaving a tapestry of emotions that envelop the reader like a warm, comforting embrace.

The novel unfolds in two parts: “Kitchen” and “Moonlight Shadow.” In the book, Mikage finds solace amidst the art of cooking and the embrace of the kitchen following her grandmother’s death. An orphan raised by her grandmother and grappling with grief, Mikage is welcomed into the unconventional family of her friend, Yuichi, and his mother, Eriko. As this makeshift family confronts its own tragedies, Mikage discovers solace in the simplicity of culinary tasks and in the daily familial chaos of Eriko and Yuichi, which offer her a lifeline through her pain. The kitchen metamorphoses into a symbol of warmth, refuge, and security in her life.

Banana Yoshimoto delves deep into the theme of transience—the fleeting nature of life and the bittersweet fragility of love and happiness. What sets her apart is her ability to infuse her writing with originality, leaving readers profoundly moved.

Mikage’s life is overshadowed by the specter of death. The narrative unfolds with the loss of her grandmother and an invitation into the home of Yuichi Tanabe, a man deeply admired by her grandmother. Yuichi lives with his mother, Eriko, who, as it is revealed, was once Yuichi’s father. After Yuichi’s mother passed away, Eriko underwent a transformative journey—a sex change—to carry on her wife’s legacy as a devoted mother.

Eriko’s character deserves praise for being not merely a transgender character (a rare inclusion, especially in a novella from 1988), but for the way Yoshimoto celebrates her femininity and her unwavering love for her son. Thus, “Kitchen” unveils a love story akin to a puppet show, with Mikage tethered to death’s right hand and Yuichi to its left. Japan, deeply rooted in cultural traditions and beliefs, holds a sacred reverence for death, and Yoshimoto uses it as a backdrop, framing the story’s action. Death is acknowledged and understood, but not wholly embraced. Life and love persist despite the ever-present shadow of mortality.

“Moonlight Shadow,” the companion story to “Kitchen,” centers around Satsuki, who grapples with the death of her boyfriend, Hitoshi. She encounters Urara, a mysterious young woman, who becomes a divine catalyst in helping Satsuki come to terms with her loss. Urara guides Satsuki toward embracing her grief and planting the seed of hope—a chance for a new beginning, a second innings in life.

Letting go can be a daunting task, and yet it is the key to moving forward. Yoshimoto explores this fundamental truth, often left unspoken but essential for genuine progress and growth. Closure is what we seek in relationships and in life itself. By accepting our reality, we pave the way for true healing and progress.

Yoshimoto’s writing style is both simple and elegant. Her prose is evocative and poetic, sprinkled with a hint of magical realism. The novel brims with exquisite imagery and metaphors that lend depth to the narrative.

In summation, “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto is a breathtaking novel that delves into themes of love, loss, grief, family, and identity. The book’s elegant yet straightforward writing style ensures an engaging read from start to finish. The characters are well-developed and relatable, fostering a deep emotional connection with readers. If you seek a brief yet emotionally gratifying literary journey, “Kitchen” is an absolute must-read.

So, these musings encapsulate our thoughts on “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto. Stay tuned with us at Booxoul for the best in travel, entertainment, food, finance, lifestyle, tech, and all things bookish.

Adios, amigos!

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