Banana Yoshimoto’s ‘Kitchen’ – Review

One of the many attractions of Banana Yoshimoto’s novel Kitchen is that it deals with feelings that everyone can relate to. Everyone has been hungry, and images of hunger, food, and meals abound in the novel. Other common feelings also come up, especially sadness and loneliness.

Early in the book, the reader discovers that the protagonist, Mikage Sakurai, was orphaned as a child and that her family had dwindled until she was the only one left. Mikage feels that she really is “all alone”. At one point, she says, “We live like the meanest of worms. Always defeated, defeated we make dinner, we eat, we sleep. Everyone we love is dying.”

However, despite the book’s many sad events, its tone is generally not one of sadness. This is because despite all the negative turns of events in their lives, the characters know how to deal with unhappiness. Mikage, Eriko and Yuichi know how to be happy.

At first, Yuichi doesn’t seem to have a good way of dealing with the things that trouble him. This fact is mentioned for the first time by his mother, Eriko. Eriko tells Mikage that she knows that she hasn’t been the perfect mother to Yuichi, because even though he is “a good boy”, there are some things that she couldn’t teach him, things that “got away from him”. Eriko knows that she didn’t teach Yuichi an effective way to deal with other people, and as a result, he “is confused about emotional things and strangely aloof around people.”

Yuichi shows this in the way he reacts to Eriko’s death. Avoid calling Mikage to tell him until a month after it happened. Her reasoning was that telling Mikage would make Eriko’s death real to him. Yuichi didn’t want to have to deal with Mikage’s reaction. When he finally calls her and they sit down to talk about it, Yuichi is drunk. In fact, he has been drinking often in the weeks since Eriko’s death.

Yuichi learns to happen when, still feeling terrible about his mother’s death, he goes to see Chika, a close friend of the family. Chika sends him to an inn where she can be alone to think. Yuichi had been thinking of living with Mikage, but he felt that he needed to “compose himself” first. While at the inn, Yuichi realizes that he really wants to be with her. Yoshimoto ends his novel with Yuichi’s cheerful declaration that he will pick up Mikage at the station. Readers get the feeling that he has finally recovered and can now be happy with Mikage.

Eriko had also gone through a time in her life where she was sad and confused about what to do. Yuichi tells Mikage that his “real” mother was another woman and that Eriko, who is transgender, is Yuichi’s biological father. “After my real mother died,” Yuichi says, “Eriko quit his job, got me together, and asked, ‘What do I want to do now?'” After his wife’s death, the man who would become Eriko felt the same confusion that Yuichi felt after Eriko’s death.

This man then adopted the life that would allow him to be happy. Yuichi explains: “What he decided was: ‘Become a woman’.” It was this decision that allowed Eriko to become the person he truly wanted to be. She wrote in the letter to Yuichi: “But I have joyfully chosen to make my fortune with my body. I am beautiful! I am stunning!…I have loved my life.” The way Eriko lived made her happy.

Another aspect of Eriko’s happiness was his philosophy of life. She believed that one could be happy despite bad things happening. She tells Mikage, “The ratio of nice to nasty things around me wouldn’t change. It wasn’t up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was embrace a kind of hazy gaiety.” She also expressed this philosophy in her letter to Yuichi. There are “people who do hate things,” she told her son, so there was a chance something could happen to him. Despite that, she wrote, Eriko was going to continue living her life.

For Mikage, the key to happiness is to remember the good things in life. Often what Mikage likes has to do with food. She makes a living working for a cooking magazine, but more than that, she really enjoys cooking. Her idea of ​​her paradise is “to live as a housewife”. She enjoys the sight of well-prepared food as much as she enjoys eating.

Mikage also loves kitchens. Yoshimoto opens his novel with Mikage’s words: “My favorite place in the world is the kitchen.” In the scene where Mikage breaks down and cries on the bus, he is comforted by the sight of a kitchen. She goes from despair to happiness in that scene just by looking at something that gives her pleasure.

The three main characters in Kitchen have figured out how to be happy in a world that doesn’t always make happiness easy. Yoshimoto never allows his characters to become desperate. “If a person hasn’t experienced true despair, they grow old not knowing how to assess where they are in life, not understanding what joy really is,” says Eriko. Yoshimoto lets desperation into the kitchen to create dramatic suspense. Will Mikage and Yuichi end up alone or will they stay together? Because Yoshimoto has left his characters well-equipped to deal with life’s quirks and unpleasant surprises, the reader has every reason to be optimistic.

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