2016年07月16日

Banana Yoshimoto’s ‘Kitchen'

I love food. But even more than just the physical sensations and pleasures of eating, I love the rituals and narratives we develop around the acts of cooking and eating.

There is something both so personal yet inclusive about the enjoyment of good food – a sense of creating connections, of sharing an unspoken story.

Literature, in particular, has used food and eating in many ways – from American comfort food in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to Oliver Twist’s gruel to Enid Blyton’s teatime spreads.

Banana Yoshimoto’s novella Kitchen is not overtly about food, but as the title suggests, it very much revolves around how cooking, meals, and food can parallel and often even influence emotions and relationships.

“The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me.” So begins our introduction to the novel’s protagonist Mikage Sakurai, and it is only later that we realise that this seemingly simple description holds a much deeper meaning – that, essentially, Mikage not just finds both comfort and meaning in cooking and food, but that food punctuates and often even shapes the plot points of her story.

Mikage herself is described as a lover of both cooking and food, so on one level, we see her enjoyment of these in almost every part of the story. Where Yoshimoto excels, though, is using these aspects as a way to actually tell her story, in a way that may not be otherwise possible.

In fact, in a story that is often restrained in its depiction of emotions, the emphasis on the enjoyment of food seems to take on an emotive and sensorial quality.

This may, on the surface, seem to be an odd way to interpret a story that is largely about death and grief. Originally written in Japanese in 1988 and then translated into English, the story begins with Mikage grieving and trying to get over the death of her only living relative, her grandmother.

She befriends Yuichi, a young man who knew her grandmother, and gets to know his mother, Eriko.

In order to cope with her loneliness and sudden lack of family, Mikage moves in with Yuichi and Eriko for a while, and the three develop a strong bond.

When tragedy strikes Eriko, it is now Yuichi who is left to deal with grief; the rest of the story revolves around how Mikage and Yuichi each navigate their loss, both clinging to each other and isolating themselves.

These are difficult experiences to capture in writing, and Yoshimoto to her credit does not overplay the grief card – if anything, the first person narration by Mikage requires you to read between the lines to truly understand the depths of the characters’ struggles.

And yet, very little interpretation is required to understand the immediate bond that is created when Mikage spends her first night at Yuichi’s home, and volunteers to make soupy rice for Eriko and him. Or the escapism of Mikage cooking a huge dinner of all sorts of disparate dishes for Yuichi and her when she hears of Eriko’s death. Or the pure drama and delight of the novel’s climax, which – without giving too much away – centres on around a particularly delicious takeaway of katsudon.

The Star2, Published: July 3, 201
How food tells a story in Banana Yoshimoto’s ‘Kitchen’
By SHARMILLA GANESAN
http://www.star2.com/living/viewpoints/2016/07/03/how-food-tells-a-story-in-banana-yoshimotos-kitchen/


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