Being a food lover, it was obvious for me to reach out for a book titled Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, but then again, this was one book that left me in a daze. The 1988 novel was only translated into English in the early 1990s, but the story engulfs almost everyone into its fold.
The protagonist, Mikage Sakurai, struggles to overcome the death of her grandmother, and this is a difficult task for her as she’s an orphan who was raised by her grandmother.
Mikage has a surreal love and affection for kitchens, and she finds in it strange warmth that soothes her. After her grandmother passes away, and she’s left all alone at home, she spends the night next to the fridge, where the low hum and the heat makes her comfortable, gives her the essence of a comforting presence around her. She loves cooking and she loves the simpler things in life. The kitchen forms almost the fourth character in the story, affecting the lives of the other characters.
“I love incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction- vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom…”
With almost no one in the world to turn to, in desperate need of a new apartment, Mikage comes across her grandmother’s acquaintance, Yuichi Tanabe. Yuichi invites her to his home, and there she not just meets his ‘ravishing’ mother, but she falls in love with their kitchen. Soon, the trio of Yuichi, his mother, and Mikage live together, with Mikage cooking happily for her new adopted family. This time is one of healing for Mikage, as she slowly steps back into the world, gets a grasp over all the work that must be cleared post the recent death in her family, she is now able to go back to university and also meeting her former lover.
Through dream sequences and symbolism, Banana weaves a complex story that seems utterly banal on the outset. Food is linked with love and family, bonding and relationships, and from ramen to soba and to katsudon, Banana has used these items to highlight how love and friendship touched the hearts of the characters.
Soon, when Mikage finds her feet, she moves out of Yuichi’s house and lives on her own. She even gets a culinary-related job and is able to be a wholesome being once again. But in all this, a tragic incident turns Yuichi’s life upside down, and now, it is Mikage’s turn to help her friend find strength and courage.
One major reason that had me hooked to the story was Banana’s ability to deal with the topic of death in such an intimate manner. As a child I’d heard how people who have seen a dead body or witnessed the death of close family member, are left forever changed. And now I know this to be true. I’ve always believed the Japanese to be able to capture the smallest of emotions, however fleeting they may be. And I identified with Mikage’s situation. Being left alone in this world. Isn’t that our deepest fear? Aren’t we terrified of growing old, and alone? The time this concept sank in, I shuddered. It’s not a pretty thought, but I supposed only Banana could take a bleak situation like that and turn it around, into one of hope, love and longing.
This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.