Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (Translated by Megan Backs)

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Kitchen (A Black cat book)

This book is one of my all-time favorites, I first read this book in my second year at junior college.
An American teacher suggested that I should definitely read this and lent it to me.
“Give it back to me when you’re through this book. Take your time,” he said.

How many years have passed since then? I lost count.
That said, this book had always had a special place in my heart.

It was a cold winter day in 2015, I was hit by a strong urge to possess this book after all these years, it came totally out of the blue.
It may have been a nostalgic part of me wanting to dwell on the fond memories associated with this book, be that as it may, I got this book from Amazon and I just adore it.

Since I have never read any of her work before, I have no frame of reference with regards to which version of her work – the Japanese one and the English one – is better than the other, but I instantly fell in love with the atmospheric, beautiful writing.

The story revolves around young two man and woman who are somehow strongly connected by ‘death.’ Needless to say, the gloomy ambiance is running through the entire book; it’s slightly morbid, dark yet it’s incredibly delicate and beautiful.

It is quite surprising that even the translated version of the book -even with the rather clear, straightforward filter of the English language – pulls off conveying the fragile, delicate ambiance what the original edition of the book might carry (again, it’s my guess as I have never read the original one) throughout the entire story.
The descriptions of darkness, silence, raindrops, the moon and the fragility are beautifully delineated through the delicate writing. The writing is really descriptive yet calm and delicate, it is absolutely gorgeous.
I personally think the atmosphere and the writing are what draw us readers into the story.

The themes of the story is also interesting. The idea of ‘death’ always sits in the center of the story, but I found some other aspects – transvestism and transsexualism – rather daring considering the time when it was first published. In this day and age when we would never go even one day without hearing the talk of ‘gender,’ such themes that can be found in this book may not have much of an impact. That being said though, decades ago, how many authors actually dared to drop them in their work and put it out for the world to read, I wonder?
Personally, I’m intrigued to know.

I adore the two main characters, Mikage and Yuichi; they both are shattered and plunged into a state of despair after losing their loved ones, they both severely suffer from the loss, they wallow in their share of loneliness and sadness. Still, they both have their own feet back on the ground slowly and steadily as the story progresses.
It’s poignant and the tone is forlorn indeed, but the ending is quite hopeful and refreshing. It put a smile on my face.

Overall, it’s a stunning, delightful read. I absolutely loved it.

■Moonlight Shadow

This book comes with a short novella titled, “Moonlight Shadow.”
This is another beautiful, impressive story on the theme of ‘death,’ it’s pretty short yet the story line is quite solid and the writing is, again, splendid and descriptive.

I think ‘death’ is the recurring theme in this ‘Kitchen’ bundle; in this novella, ‘Moonlight Shadow,’ two main characters, Satsuki and Hiiragi struggle to bounce back from the loss of their loved ones.
The inner process of Satsuki is so heart-wrenching and poignant. She hits the lowest point from having lost her boyfriend and has yet to come to terms with it. Her anguish, grief, and pain she suffers from the loss seem too much to overcome, but she tries to get by each day believing the day will break and the morning will come  – her struggles can be felt so close to me, it pained my heart.

What really pains Satsuki is not only the fact that she’ll never see her lover again, but she didn’t get to say proper good-bye to him.
With an eccentric but whimsical character Urara, the story takes an interesting twist.

The dialogue that Satsuki had with Hiiragi in the latter part made me cry. It beautifully tells how much Satsuki has been suffering and how much Hiiragi cares about her. There’s no love-triangle or messy business involved, of course, yet Hiiragi’s concerns over Satsuki and his willingness to overcome the pains together with Satsuki touched me.

And the ending, Ah, THE ENDING. It was stunningly beautiful. It was just amazing and incredibly emotional. My tears flooded as I read the scene, what a tear-jerker. It was just gorgeous.

Personally, I liked ‘Moonlight Shadow’ better. It may be because I was more emotionally attached to ‘Moonlight Shadow’ than ‘Kitchen,’ yet I can vouch that the both stories are just stunning. They are gems. I highly recommend picking this up.