Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
5 out of 5 stars
I'm not sure where I heard of this book (I need to start tracking that), but I know it came highly recommended and had been on my to-buy list for a while when I finally found it one day at HPB. And I'll admit, the thing I liked the most about the book at first was the title and author. I dare you to say "Banana Yoshimoto" and not smile. But hey, if that's what got me to read the book, then I'm okay with it! The book itself is pleasing too...it's the perfect sized paperback to slip in your purse or bag, slightly floppy, with an inside flap front & back, and the uneven pages that make the edges feely.
This was truly a magical little book. I actually went back after I finished it and underlined all my favorite parts and phrases that jumped out at me. I haven't done that since The Book Thief. It's split into two different stories, "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow", but both have similar themes of young people dealing with grief and finding hope in small, seemingly insignificant things. "Kitchen" is about twice as long and my favorite of the two.
Mikage is a young, Japanese woman in her early twenties (maybe mid) and has just lost her last living relative, her grandmother. She doesn't know what to do with herself and can only find comfort in the kitchen, "the place [she] like[s] best in this world...". She has even taken to sleeping in the kitchen at night, lulled to sleep by the humming refrigerator. When Yuichi (I pronounced it Yoochee in my head, don't know if that's right), a young friend of her grandmother's, shows up and asks Mikage to come stay with him and his mother, she agrees.
Yuichi's mother, Eriko, was probably my favorite character. "--the whole of her gave off a marvelous light that seemed to vibrate with life force. She didn't look human. I had never seen anyone like her. There was a warm light, like her afterimage, softly glowing in my heart." Eriko gathers Mikage up into their lives and makes her feel human again. Even with all the hardship Eriko has faced (and there is a lot), she is still an incredible human being. You might think that this is just a fluffy little story, but it's not. There is another moment of loss (not going to spoil it, so don't even try!) around the middle of the story and you begin to feel that loss acutely with the characters. But the hope that Yoshimoto is able to convey thru words is amazing. This is a book I would turn to in the future (way, way in the future I hope) when I have experienced a great loss and do not know how to move on.
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.
So where does the kitchen come in, you ask? Well, besides loving the room, Mikage decides to learn how to cook and begins a scientific study almost of the culinary arts. "The sensation that my brain cells were multiplying was exhilarating." Have you ever had that feeling? I think I get it sometimes while reading...To Kill a Mockingbird gave me that feeling and Cannery Row. I felt it when I came up with the idea for the Anne of Green Gables tote bag I made for a friend, but that was the first time in a very long time I'd felt it while crafting. Which makes me sad. I used to be a Crafter, capital C. Now I just craft, occasionally. Mikage wants to Cook and she finds that she is good at it, excellent almost. And this new talent helps her to move forward and on. "Over and over, we begin again."
"Moonlight Shadow" is a bit darker story and slightly supernatural, but still deals with that lung-crushing, mind-numbing, can't move your legs, feeling of despair and loss. The hope is still there though. "It's all right, it's all right, the day will come when you'll pull out of this." This is a story of how people come to terms with that loss and pull themselves along, whether it's by running for miles every morning or wearing your girlfriend's school uniform (as a male) or believing in miracles.
I hope I've managed to convey the wonder and magic of this little book. I checked out another of her books at the library, Asleep, and I'm really looking forward to seeing if it's as good.