Book name: Kitchen
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: 1993 (English)
Star Rating: 5/5
Back in 1987 there weren’t so many fictional trans characters around, so when I saw the blurb for Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto I was intrigued.
Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as the voice of young Japan after Kitchen won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes.
However, the story of Kitchen is surprisingly simple and sincere for a work of literature that has been so widely praised.
Mikage Sakurai is a student in Tokyo. She is working through her grief at losing her grandmother.
The poignancy of her loss is greatly increased because her grandmother raised her after both her parents died when she was a child.
Mikage can’t afford to keep renting her grandmother’s old apartment so she has to find another place to live.
She is invited to rent a room from her friend Yuichi, also a student, who lives with his mother.
Mikage sleeps in the living room and even longs to sleep in the kitchen. There is something warm and comforting about this room for her.
She also processes her grief by cooking, teaching herself the art right from scratch and preparing meal after meal for her hosts.
Somewhere along the way, Mikage and Yuichi begin to fall in love. Theirs is a profoundly gentle courtship. Others seem to press them together, but they take their time and find themselves along the way.
Eriko, Yuichi’s mother, is trans. There is a respectful and accepting exploration by Banana Yoshimoto in Kitchen of her identity and transition. It was an unusual feature of literature in the Eighties to include a trans character, so Kitchen was ahead of its time.
The English translation by Megan Backus was excellent. The volume also contains a very short novella called Moonlight Shadow which I found uplifting and empowering.
Satsuki is dealing with the death of her boyfriend Hitoshi in a car accident. She is supported by his brother, whose girlfriend Yumiko was also killed. Hiiragi is expressing his loss by cross-dressing, wearing the sailor suit that his girlfriend was so attached to. Satsuki turns to running and meets a shadowy figure who promises to help.
There is a strong supernatural feel to the help that this figure offers Satsuki. The spirits of those we have lost can appear before us to help us process our grief and move on. This is what happens to Satsuki.
As with Kitchen, Moonlight Shadow explored our response to bereavement. Both were movingly sincere in the feelings of the point-of-view character and were told in the first person. This made me feel much closer to both Satsuki and Mikage.
A central theme of both narratives is the necessity of giving yourself time to grieve the loss of someone special and that it is essential that any feelings of guilt at moving on and feeling better don’t prevent you from doing so. That was a very positive and empowering message to receive from both stories.
I liked Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto very much. They were simple tales told incredibly well, and very easy reads considering the subject matter.
Thank you for reading my review.
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