Even though Kitchen is a highly acclaimed slim novel and was originally written in Japanese in 1988 and was a big hit when it was published in the United States, it took me a long time to pick up a copy. I’m glad I finally did. Kitchen is darker in nature than most of the American novels that I’ve read, but was one of the best novels I’ve read lately.
Kitchen starts out with two deaths—one the timely and expected death of a grandmother and an unexpected and rather shocking murder of one of the protagonists' mother/father a few chapters later. The two mourners, Mikage and Yuichi, are kind of in love, but are afraid to admit it to each other or to anyone else. The plot may sound fairly traditional at this point, but if you consider that the murder victim was Yuichi’s biological father who later became his mother, you start to understand how unconventional Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen really is.
The most striking aspect of Kitchen was the originality of the characters. Words of wisdom in the novel come from every person in the book; you can expect as much wisdom from the transvestite who has newly inherited a bar as you can from the owner of a restaurant where Mikage, the main character, is working.
The narrative is told from Yuichi’s point of view. Reading Kitchen was like having a conversation with Yuichi; I learned about her love for all kitchens—even those with crumbs on the floor—and her complicated feelings for Yuichi after the death of his mother. Although Kitchen is a dark novel, there are moments of light shining through in the novel; through learning how to cook, Yuichi is able to find her own personal joy, but has a hard time dealing with the deaths around her at such a young age.
Banana Yoshimoto wrote the Kitchen while she was working as a waitress; in the edition I have, there is an afterword in which she apologizes to her employer for taking writing breaks while on the clock. After the success of Kitchen and the outstanding writing in the book, I’m thinking that Banana Yoshimoto really shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone.
The edition I have also contains a novelette entitled Moonlight Shadow. Although the title Moonlight Shadow sounds like something Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame may have written, the novelette is a serious work also exploring life and death.