When Kitchen was
published in Japan in 1988, it caused a stir. Japanese literature had
never seen anything like it, with the transgender head of a fluid
family unit, an orphaned female narrator whose goals aren’t
traditional, and stylistic techniques associated with manga (Japanese comics). It spawned
a “Bananamania” frenzy and has since been published in almost two dozen
Author Banana (real name Mahoto) Yoshimoto was only 24 and recently out of college when she wrote Kitchen, an exploration of what would become recurring themes for her of the loss of loved ones and the stresses on Japanese youth. Mikage, the narrator, has lost her last relative, her grandmother, as the book opens. Grieving and adrift, she is taken in by Yuichi, who adored her grandmother, and his mother (“really my father”), Eriko. In their company she not only is nurtured but also finds a calling to cook.
The simple, matter-of-fact writing style of Kitchen may be hard for Western readers to get used to, but it’s worth sticking with. Yoshimoto offers profound reflections about carrying on and surviving.
Although Kitchen is still the most popular, Yoshimoto’s works now include 12 novels and 7 collections of essays.
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