"Kitchen" by Banana Yoshimoto

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Translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus

Plain and simple, touching and hopeful, Kitchen has philosophical asides sprinkled throughout that give it depth and charm. This charm emanates from Mikage, the young woman who loses her beloved grandmother, and from Yuichi, whose mother passes away a few months later.

These philosophical asides have the virtue of being spoken very plainly and grow out of the normal thoughts and emotions of our heroine, Mikage. So unadorned and succinct are they that they frequently achieve a poetry reminiscent of Basho, or other masters of haiku. They even at times approach a Zen state in propounding newly discovered, or newly obvious, truths as Mikage encounters them.

Mikage is a university student in Tokyo when her grandmother’s death unmoors her. She misses her classes, withdraws, and sleeps great clumps of her life away. When invited by Yuichi and his radiant mother Eriko to stay at their apartment indefinitely, her life turns around, and her relationship with Yuichi takes on a complicated, so-many-things-left-unsaid quality.

Ms. Yoshimoto resolves this relationship satisfactorily, but Mikage’s growth in maturity and wisdom constitutes the true treat in Kitchen. This is a brief, uncomplicated read, but its marbling of a young, appealing woman’s reflections and yearnings commend it to the discerning reader. Recommended!

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