Original Title: キッチン Kicchin
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus
Published April 17th 2006 by Grove Press (first published January 1st 1988)
Literary Awards: Nihon University Department of Arts Prize (1986), Kaien magazine New Writer Prize (1987)
Kitchen is about Mikage Sakurai who is trying to cope with her grandmother’s death, and life in general. The story revolves on coming to terms with inevitable loss, relationships and everyday life. Her somewhat sad state is alleviated by staying with Yuichi and Eriko Tanabe, who gave her both friendship and comfort in the midst of tragedy. Kitchen relates to us how Mikage struggles to understand her experiences, the fragility of life, and how events can make or unmake us. Through Yoshimoto’s words we become acquainted with Mikage’s efforts to move on, establish relationships and live a life, while realizing that sadness, death or loss are inevitable and a part of life. A conversation between Mikage and Eriko shows just that:
“Life can be so hard,” I said, moved.
“Yes. But if a person hasn’t ever experienced true despair, she grows old never knowing how to evaluate where she is in life; never understanding what joy really is. I’m grateful for it.”
In another part, Mikage realizes how fundamental Eriko was in teaching her about life’s constant difficulties and the importance of dealing with them:
In the six months we spent together she had always been there for me, she spoiled me.
To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on as usual in spite of it. I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities? I didn’t like it, but it made it easier to go on.
While these difficult themes are the center of the novel, it doesn’t leave you miserable or wretched. It actually does the opposite in a beautiful and subtle way through Yoshimoto’s words. You are filled with hope, as if Mikage is a friend who shows you how these difficulties are inevitable but will eventually pass.
Kitchen is original, simple and gripping. Having said that, I do not think Banana Yoshimoto’s books are for everyone. True, she has the capacity to evoke emotions from the reader through the use of simple, unadorned phrases but some readers might find this awkward and too simplistic. Not many will get it but when one does, a reader will appreciate its profound messages of love, life, relationships and loss. If you would like a quick read, get a copy and relish on Banana Yoshimoto’s words.