TK421's Reviews > Kitchen

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
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Feb 05, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: literary
Read from February 05 to 23, 2011

One of the many things I love about goodreads is that a person is able to see what other “friends” think about a novel before committing oneself to reading it. I would have never read KITCHEN had I not seen that Mariel, Oriana, and Jason Pettus, three of my friends, all thought highly of this slim book.

But, even with the high ratings of these three “friends”, I still had to find out information about Banana Yoshimoto, the author. So I went to Wikipedia (obviously, where else would I go?) and read about her accomplishments and many literary awards in her home country of Japan. It seemed there was a phase lovingly referred to as Bananamania both in the US and in Japan. Then, just as I had decided that perhaps this book was not worth moving to the top of my TBR pile, I saw that Yoshimoto had outspokenly said that she aims to win the Nobel Prize in literature. (I loved this bravado!) Most critics don’t see this as happening, saying she is a “lightweight.” Well, I put what the critics had to say aside and began reading this novel.

And I have to say I loved the use of a kitchen as a metaphor for life and life’s daily interactions. When you stop to think about it, there are a lot of events that happen in a kitchen over the course of the day. I had never stopped to give this much thought. (In graduate school I did read some essays by a sociologist and anthropologist team that ventured across Europe studying bathrooms as a way to see into a country’s culture.) But if the kitchen metaphor was only a stand-a-lone point of the story, the book would have floundered. So Yoshimoto supplies whatever actions happen in a kitchen (home, apartment, restaurant, even the simple act of eating as communion) with direct language that is sparse, beautiful, and laden with underlying messages. You see, the real question of this novel is: What does love mean to a person when it becomes absent in one’s life?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer, for both the characters in the story as well as for the reader. In the story, Mikage loses her grandmother and is then invited to stay with Eriko (a transvestite) and her (his) son, Yuichi. For the most part, this piecemeal family goes about its daily interactions as any “normal” family would. That is until tragedy strikes. I won’t spoil what happens, but let’s just say Mikage loses again, along with some other characters. It is at this point that the reader takes on a new role: one of participant. There are several choices that the reader must make: 1) stop reading; 2) allow the events to play out and continue reading; or 3) believe in the tragedy and get lost in the story. I chose number 3. And even though I have no basis of understanding to compare to these characters, I felt their pain, the confusion, the moments of helplessness that teeter precariously on the edge of hopelessness.

Perhaps it would be easy to label this as just a sentimental novel by an overrated novelist—but that may be missing the point. This is a powerful novel if allowed to be read as a powerful novel. It tries to give answers to difficult questions. Sometimes the novel succeeds. Sometimes it fails, even, dare I say, becomes hokey. But all of that can be whitewashed over by the simple notion that this novel achieves what other great novels achieve: the ability to be whatever the reader wants it to be.

I cannot say that Banana Yoshimoto will be a contender for the Nobel Prize, but I can say that she delivers a strong argument for being one of the great writers currently writing today.

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02/05/2011 page 32
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Mariel Yay! This book is so sweet.

Cindy Fantastic! I picked up a copy of this a couple of weeks ago.

TK421 Cindy wrote: "Fantastic! I picked up a copy of this a couple of weeks ago."

I think you'll really like this one. It's a quick read, but that's not to say it isn't layered in meaning and subtlety.

Jenny (Reading Envy) I am reading this for my Japan pick this year; glad to know you enjoyed it too!

TK421 Jenny wrote: "I am reading this for my Japan pick this year; glad to know you enjoyed it too!"

It was very good. I hope to get to more of her books soon.

message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica T. lol.. I do the same thing!

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