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Previous Reads: Fiction > Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 4 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Our March group read is Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Description (from blurb of my copy)
Kitchen Juxtaposes two tales* about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan's brightest young literary star and is now a cult film.
When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan's most prestigious literary prizes, climbed it's way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature and has been described as 'the voice of young Japan' by the Independent on Sunday

*Kitchen is normally published alongside another novella, Moonlight Shadow. I'm going to say we only need to read Kitchen for this group, but feel free to read and discuss Moonlight Shadow here as well.

Banana Yoshimoto (mostly cribbed from wikipedia)
Yoshimoto was born in Tokyo on July 24, 1964. Her father is the famous poet and critic Takaaki Yoshimoto, and her sister, Haruno Yoiko, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. She grew up in a liberal family. She graduated from Nihon University's Art College, majoring in literature. During that time, she took the pseudonym "Banana" after her love of banana flowers, a name she recognizes as both "cute" and "purposefully androgynous."
Yoshimoto named American author Stephen King as one of her first major influences, and drew inspiration from his non-horror stories. As her writing progressed, she was further influenced by Truman Capote and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Her debut novel, Kitchen, had over sixty printings in Japan alone. There have been two films made of the story, a Japanese TV movie and a more widely released version produced in Hong Kong by Yim Ho in 1997. She won the 6th Kaien Newcomer Writers Prize in November 1987 for Kitchen. The novel was also nominated for the Mishima Yukio Prize. And then she won the 16th Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature in January 1988 for a novella Moonlight Shadow.

Talking Points
To avoid spoilers I will find/come up with some of these as and after I finish reading the book. In the meantime, discuss however you like.

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
I'm excited to read this. Both it and Banana Yoshimoto have been on my radar for quite a while. I'm happy to read it with this group :)
I had no idea it was a film and hope I can get my hands on a copy in the U.S. after reading it.

message 3: by Rosemary (last edited Mar 01, 2016 02:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rosemary I read this in one sitting (both novellas). It's short but has some beautiful perspectives on loneliness and loss.

I promised to pass this on to a friend and I'm almost regretting it. I like to pass books around, but I also would have liked to keep this one to reread, since our library doesn't have it.

I love the cover of my copy which is a shot from the movie:
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
The other covers look more quirky housewife. This one speaks of grief to me.

message 4: by Louise, Group Founder (last edited Mar 01, 2016 02:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I read Kitchen on my commute today, will read Moonlight Shadow tomorrow. Like Rosemary, I enjoyed the perspectives on loss and loneliness. To me it was very good at describing the total numbness of depression as well - though the characters are suffering more directly from grief.

I wonder, though, how different parts of the book would be if written today. For its time I can imagine it was a really groundbreaking portrayal of a transwoman - and I don't want to take away from that - but, reading it now, there are definitely some aspects of her plot and the language about her character that I found uncomfortable.

As for my cover, it's this one:
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
I really like it - actually, it's one of the reasons I purchased this book about a year ago when I spotted it sitting in the 'staff recommends' section. The quirky housewife one, doesn't really do much for me either. And yes, now that I've read the book, it does seem rather ill-fitting to the actual story.

Amanda | 34 comments Have started this morning and am halfway through ( that's including Moonlight Shadow, as I have borrowed the same edition as Louise has read).

Am really enjoying it, as I have most Japanese fiction I have read (Almost Transparent Blue almost turned me off returning to it though).

Will write more once I have finished, sometime today.

lethe | 202 comments Got my copy from the library yesterday. It is in Dutch and had to be dug up from storage.

My copy contains 3 stories (although the back cover mentions only 2): Kitchen, Volle maan (Kitchen 2), and Moonlight Shadow.

('Volle maan' means 'full moon' in English.)

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
I read this entire book in a day. I had this cover: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
but I think it actually works for the Kitchen storyline. It just makes me think of her attempts at optimism throughout the story. I think it fits in with Asian pop culture. There is a lot of emphasis placed on appearing happy and "cute" to others. When I see the cover, I immediately picture a rom-dram series. There were moments when I was suddenly smashed with sadness as her character was in the story.

(view spoiler)

I really enjoyed both stories, but I think I was a little happier with Moonlight Shadow. The atmosphere in general was more hopeful and less bleak. That's just a personality preference though, both stories were great. I look forward to reading more of Banana Yoshimoto. I love how she approaches loss and grief and how everyone experiences and copes with it differently. They were really beautiful stories.

Rosemary Anita wrote: "I read this entire book in a day. I had this cover: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
but I think it actually works for the Kitchen storyline. It just makes me think of her attempts at optimism throughout ..."

I like your thoughts on the cover! I see what you mean. Maybe it wasn't such a weird choice of cover design as I thought.

message 9: by Brooke (last edited Mar 11, 2016 11:23PM) (new) - added it

Brooke Ezra Torf-Fulton (brookeetf) | 5 comments Kitchen was a beautiful, frank and raw account of both loneliness and our innate need to create connection and relationships within our life. I still need to read Moonlight. And I will be honest, while reading Kitchen, I could not decide if I liked Yoshimoto's writing style. However, after I finished the story I could not stop thinking about the characters, which clearly means that her story has made a last impact on me -- as only good writing can.

Scene discussion
(view spoiler)

Kathleen I agree that Kitchen was beautiful, and I liked Moonlight even more--possibly because it's short length gave it even more power.

The gentle rhythm to the writing style was what I liked best. And the descriptions of grief were perfect in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.

message 11: by lethe (last edited Mar 19, 2016 11:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

lethe | 202 comments I finished this book on the 10th and have been mulling over what to write ever since. But now the book is due back to the library, so here are my rambling thoughts. I haven’t always used the spoiler tag, so beware.

First, the cover: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The image’s resolution is very low, but it depicts Japanese snacks wrapped in cellophane printed with faces and kimonos to resemble Japanese dolls, both male and female (I found clearer pictures here — rather fitting that these particular snacks happened to be given in honour of Girl’s Day!). It looks very cute and colourful.

My copy contains 3 stories, as I’d already mentioned: Kitchen, Volle maan (Kitchen 2), and Moonlight Shadow. All three are dedicated to different people, but I think in the English version Kitchen and Volle maan are presented as one. Volle maan starts off after (view spoiler).

Upon finishing the book, I read many reviews that were critical of the translation, no matter what language it was in, which led me to believe it was not the translators’ doing, but rather the author’s. The back cover of my copy even mentions “the deceptive simplicity” of the writing.

I didn’t mind the writing though, I found it quite atmospheric. But I can’t count the number of times I came across “zei ik en lachte” (“I said and laughed”), or variations thereof after a sentence spoken by the narrator. I often had no idea what they found so amusing. This may be a cultural difference, but it may also have to do with wanting to appear happy, as Anita wrote upthread.

I didn’t like the way transsexuality and transvestitism were mixed up and how a transsexual was equated with a drag queen. I had to keep reminding myself that this book was written 30 years ago and that we’ve come a long way since then (most of us, I hope — not counting Germaine Greer c.s.).

But I changed my mind after reading Moonlight Shadow. It features a boy who, following the death of his girlfriend, has started wearing her school uniform, skirt and all. This is his way of grieving and coping with her loss.

(view spoiler) Actually, I realize now that the concept of transsexuality is never mentioned in the whole book (transvestite is), except on the book’s back cover.

Final verdict: a strange but interesting read.

Elsie I had mixed feelings about Kitchen. I liked a lot about the story and how the characters were portrayed, but I found myself stopping a lot to figure out what a passage was trying to convey. I'm not sure if it was a translation issue or the author trying too hard sometimes. It was just okay to me, not something I'd recommend.

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