Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto’s first novel, encompasses the tumult of familial relationships and the immense ability of a home to comfort its inhabitants. This is a story that I first read in Japanese and only later in English, it is a story that I have turned to in sorrow as well as in jubilation, it is a story predominantly characterized by quietness, and  it is a story of defining oneself against a backdrop of loss and loneliness.

The brevity and lyricism of this novel, in both form and scope, echo the passing of grief. The opening pages introduce the narrator,Mikage, in a state of mind somewhere between waking and sleeping; she is quietly mourning the death of her grandmother and sleeping in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator, to ward of the loneliness creeping into the house. Even when Mikage is befriended and taken in by Yuichi and Eriko, she finds herself seeking comfort in kitchens, “the place [she] likes best in this world.”

Loss and memory thematically course through Kitchen, eloquently evoking sorrow and coaxing both the reader and Mikage into letting go of those lost. Comfort, in this novella, is portrayed as both simplistic and a seldom-found luxury; the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘family’ are both restructured. Together these characteristics have caused me to return to this story multiple times a year for nearly a decade.

Recently I have, yet again, pulled this book off the shelf and absorbed myself in its pages as I grieve losses within my own family. It is a story best experienced when its slow pacing can be juxtaposed to the quickness with which the end if reached. For this reason, I have a tendency to read this novella in a single sitting, curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea or hot chocolate at hand.

To borrow a threadbare cliché, this novel struck a chord with me long ago and, to this day, I carry the reverberations with me. This is always the first book of many that I recommend, and more so than with any other, I mean it when I say that this is a story that should be read, discussed, and shared.

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