Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

There are some books I read because they are sent to me. Other books are recommendations. Some books I find in bookshops. And then there are books like Kitchen. A few weeks ago, I started seeing this book everywhere. First I saw someone reading a copy while I was on the bus. Then I saw someone else reading it in Victoria Square. Then I saw a third person reading it in as many days (this time at a cafĂ©,) and my interest was and truly piqued. 

Kitchen, it turns out, is a collection featuring two novellas with themes of grief and the healing power of food. The first and longer novella, titled Kitchen is about Mikage, a young college student, who, following on from the death of the grandmother who had raised her, is invited to stay with one of her classmates and his mother, an eccentric transgender woman who is intent on living her life to the fullest. Midway through the story, Eriko is murdered. Both Mikage and Yuichi must learn to live without her. Fortunately, Mikage has learned about the healing power of food and sets about using her talents as a chef to help Yuichi, and in this way, returns the debt that she owes Eriko for her kindness after her grandmother passed away.

The second, shorter and arguably better story in the volume is Moonlight Shadow, a haunting tale about a young woman who is grieving for her boyfriend who died in an accident. A mysterious young woman comes to her aid in the most unexpected and haunting of ways. 

This was a short and compelling read. Although some of the nuances about life in Japan in the 1980s were lost on me, I found the human side of the story to be extremely rich and compelling. However, one mystery remains. I still have no idea how or why this book (first published in 1988 in Japan, and first translated into English in 1993,) has sparked such sudden interest in my hometown. 

Maybe Kitchen is just a good book?

Highly recommended. 

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