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Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto - 1988)


I've been getting into things Japanese recently. Mostly the anime films from Studio Ghibli. There's something about Japanese culture that is alien, and at the same time strangely familiar to me. Japan is about the same size as the British Isles, and lies off the coast of mainland Asia, as we lie off the coast of mainland Europe. Maybe we share a kind of island-nation mentality. Our climates are quite similar as well, although Japan seems to be much more mountainous than the UK. Anyway, for some reason I find I can identify with Japanese culture more easily than say US culture - even though I share a language with the US, and I've been exposed to US culture constantly from an early age.

Kitchen is a short novel written by the then-young Banana Yoshimoto in 1988. (The word 'banana' in Japanese means 'banana', so, yes, I guess someone did name their daughter after that long yellow fruit. By the way, the Japanese normally put the family name first, and then the given name, so you are liable to see Japanese names either way around in English. A bit confusing, but there it is...)

I read it last week on the recommendation of my friend, Helen. Something about it reminds me of Kathy Acker, and also Carson McCullers. Kitchen is a story about love and loss and belonging. I found it very moving. It is written with a delicacy that, after a while, seems to merge with the emotional journey the central character embarks on after the death of her grandmother.

Kitchen was a massive best-seller in Japan when it was first published, and has since been made into two films - the first one in Japanese, and the second in Cantonese by (I believe) a Hong Kong director. I think the later film has a different title. I'm looking forward to seeing them both, though I'm not sure how available they are in the UK. If anyone knows how to get hold of them, please let me know.

Copyright 2007 Paul Mackilligin