Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (Translated by Megan Backs)

124533This 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 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 in the latter part that Satsuki had with Hiiragi 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.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

athe-nixI still don’t know where to start when it comes to talking about this book.
Let me put it this way; there’s an awful lot going on in this book and the writing may come across a bit WORDY, yes, wordy. (I actually stole the word my reading buddy used to describe this book, sorry!)
Getting back to the subject, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars – I really enjoyed this book, yet this book stopped short of toppling my world and perspective upside down, thus a ducked star; it was pretty close, yet not a straight-up 5 stars book for me.

There is one thing I really need to point out about this book; THE WRITING. The writing is what makes this book so special and unique. As I mentioned earlier, it is wordy at times, yet it is also very descriptive and powerful. I also sensed somewhat like sarcasm and witticism running through the entire book and it made me giggle and laugh out loud at times.

I am pretty sure that many of those who have read this book adore Chapter 4, ‘Argumentum Verbosium’ part. To be perfectly honest, I LOVE the entire chapter, but this particular part, ‘Argumentum Verbosium’ is something you can’t miss. This is the part where the author’s uncanny talent in writing starts to shine – he wondrously and amazingly delineates through his writing how teenage girls would talk – gushing out whatever they have to say and not letting anyone cut in. It was so funny and hilarious.

By the same token, a certain chapter (which comes later in the book) literally blew me away; I have never come across an author who is capable of writing nearly THE WHOLE CHAPTER without stopping – I mean, the second sentence goes on and on and on until the end of the chapter! Trust me, it’ll blow you away when you read it.

The characters are all fleshed out really nicely, they all felt very realistic and grounded. They are a bit dysfunctional and broken in their own way, but surprisingly enough, there are only a few of them who I ended up not liking.

Story-wise, I thought it is very complicated, yet beautifully and intricately crafted.
Right from the beginning, I knew he is a kind of author who spends an enormous amount of pages and time on the character development as well as carefully building up the story. True to form, the end product, the book is quite chunky and voluminous. That being said though, the plot is really gripping and interesting, it kept me turning pages without losing momentum.

I thought it was amazing that the author pulled off putting all the branched out story-lines together beautifully and nicely in the end.
As there are so many things going on in this book with two-main story lines –one with Samuel and the other with Fayne in addition to the timelines going back and forth back and forth between 1968 and 2011, I didn’t actually lose track of the story, but I slowly and gradually began to wonder how the author was going to wrap everything up. Like I said, the story branched out into so many directions which seemed disparate and unrelated, so I was amazed to see (not really ‘see,’ it’s actually ‘read’) how nicely everything is entwined in the end.
However, you’ll need to be patient until you reach that point; it takes time for everything to come together. You will need to trust the author, resist your gut-instinct to drop it and just keep going.

The last part (‘Deleverage’) was such a page-turner; I literally gobbled up the last 100 pages. With the intense, descriptive writing, it was so gripping and engaging, I just couldn’t put it down.

Having said that, I must say that I was a bit caught off guard by how it ends.
With all the underlining sarcasm and witticism plus a wicked sense of humor, I was expecting a bit grimmer and darker ending. I wasn’t expecting the direction this book took as it drew near the end, I was a bit taken aback yet now I think it was a fitting end.

I think this is a grand story of ‘redemption’ and ‘second chance.’
Although all the characters, particularly the main two characters, Samuel and Fayne go through a lot in the story, the place where they have reached and stands is quite satisfactory.

Despite its length, it’s definitely worth a read. There’s no doubt that the author has an excellent flair in writing, I can vouch for that. It was a humorous, funny and exhilarating read. Highly recommend it.