Sunday, December 28, 2014

Banana's Kitchen!

Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen combines two novellas into one thematic collection. The first, and decidedly best and lengthy one, features the story of a Japanese woman named Mikage Sakurai. Orphaned as a child, Mikage was raised by her grandparents in Tokyo. And per her story‘s opening, her grandmother, the last living relative in her family, has passed and left Mikage alone in the apartment they shared. It’s a bit suffocating to Mikage, living in the loneliness and silence. Nonetheless, she’s always found comfort in kitchens. And not just cooking in kitchens; sleeping on a futon next to a humming refrigerator consoles her just nicely.  Whether she's enduring the struggles provided by life or death, her affinity for kitchens has always been true.  (Filthy or clean, it doesn't matter to her.)  Naturally, this is the first place Mikage feels drawn to after her grandmother’s death.  So without question kitchens are the motif behind her story.

With a life surrounded by the dying of her loved ones, Mikage is the last of the Sakurai family and has no one to turn to. Thankfully, a guy named Yuichi, who works in a flower shop that Mikage’s grandmother frequented, comes to Mikage's “rescue.” With his love of the deceased grandmother spilling over, Yuichi invites Mikage to live with him and his transvestite (to be clear, his father dresses as a woman) mother to help Mikage grieve as well as settle her grandmother’s estate. Needless to say, a bond is formed between Mikage and Yuichi. A bond established by their combined link to death, sorrow and hope.

Now, the second story in Kitchen is called “Moonlight Shadow.” Apparently, it’s Yoshimoto’s first published piece, and is an obvious slant toward the aforementioned story. In “Moonlight Shadow” a young woman name Satsuki is mourning the death of her boyfriend. She grieves through jogging in the early hours of the day, where she crosses a white bridge upon her route. One day Satsuki runs into a woman at this bridge, and it‘s here that the two share a thermos of tea. It appears to be a random encounter, until the woman proceeds to connect with Satsuki on an incorporeal level.

(This next half of the post refers mainly to the title story and not the short, "Moonlight Shadow.")

I feel so conflicted with this, but I was a little apathetic about Kitchen the first few thirty-or-so pages into it. And while I did want a little more "meat," that impassive feeling wasn't because of Yoshimoto’s sort of inconspicuous storytelling. Nevertheless, I want to get to the really, really good stuff first.  

As mentioned, the stories in Kitchen take a steep, subjective step into how some of us approach death, loneliness, sorrow and the eventual necessity to heal. And I've marked some of my favorite passages to illustrate such.
"No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die.  Without that, I am not alive.  That is what makes the life I have now possible.  Inching one's way along a steep cliff in the dark: on reaching the highway, one breathes a sigh of relief.  Just when one can't take any more, one sees the moonlight.  Beauty that seems to infuse itself into the heart: I know about that."
"'We've been very lonely, but we had it easy.  Because death is so heavy–we, too young to know about it, couldn't handle it.  After this you and I may end up seeing nothing but suffering, difficulty, and ugliness, but if only you'll agree to it, I want for us to go on to more difficult places, happier places, whatever comes, together.  I want you to make the decision after you're completely better, so take your time thinking about it.  In the meantime, though, don't disappear on me.'"
Good stuff, right?  Well, as we all know, translations are never 100%, so maybe that initial apathetic feeling had to do with the book's translation from Japanese to English.  However, I think I can bottom line those feelings to Kitchen's often defunct subordinate and insubordinate clauses, comma splices, complex sentences, and moments of awkwardly expressed dialogue. Give or take a few. Eventually, I got the hang of it all.  Or I failed to notice or revisit moments of hiccupping narrative to reconnect a few of those uncertain subject-verb agreements.  Not trying to sound like a grammar police because I'm a criminal myself.  But when I notice a missing beat, I notice it.  Technical or otherwise.

Maybe it’s the change of cadence from poetic Japanese prose to English. I honestly don't know. I can only say that for a few pages, I had to establish the rhythm and beat of the book. And thankfully I did because the further the story moved, the further I was moved. And when it concluded, I looked up to the ceiling telling myself: “Damn, that was a good story.”  Of course with the book pinned against my heart for dramatic flare.  Seriously, though.  Once I was there with Kitchen, I was there.  We're talking tense and scared for the outcome; hopeful and unsure.

I'll leave it at that because I think I've muddled what I was trying to say.  Otherwise, we'll be here all day analyzing this book.  Kitchen is worth your attention even if you may also find yourself trying to warm up to the story and characters, delivered by the sometimes hiccupy narrative.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews