The place I like best in the world is the kitchen,” declares a youthful Mikage Sakurai at the beginning of “Kitchen“.

Written by Banana Yoshimoto*, Kitchen quickly become a bestseller when it was published in 1988. Yoshimoto also received some of Japan’s top literary prizes with her first book, further fanning the “Bananamania” in the country.

Having recently read Kitchen – translated into English by Megan Backus – it’s easy to see why this modern-day fairy tale had been such a hit. Aside from the happy ending, Kitchen is an endearing story starring sincere, kind, yet somewhat lonely, people in a big city. It’s like a dream, full of hope and warmth.

It is also well written. I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity with which Yoshimoto presented her characters.

When I first came across the book and read the first page, I knew already that I’d like the book and Mikage Sakurai. What’s not to like about someone whose favourite place in the world in the kitchen?

I enjoy spending time in the kitchen – though I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite spot in the world. My colleagues laugh when I tell them that I like chopping vegetables as I find it therapeutic. Why not – especially after a hectic day’s work and all I have to focus on is to peel, cut and slice repeatedly?

Another instance when I could relate to Mikage was when she said to herself, “No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive. That is what makes the life I have now possible.”

When I was a kid, some friends tried to read my future by looking at my palm. I was told on a few occasions that I’d live a short life. Do I believe in what some eight-year-old had to say about my future? No. But it is always at the back of my mind that someday I will die and prompts me to live life rather than let it pass me by.

Kitchen is a delightful read with a hearty dash of hope and magic. Read it if you have the chance!

* Born  Yoshimoto Mahoko, she chose Banana as her pen name because of her love for banana flowers, which she finds “rather cute and androgynous”.

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7 replies on “Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen

  1. I think your review must certainly be as charming as the book itself. Thank you for a lovely and entertaining read! And thank you also for your erudite reminder that to fully feel alive, we must remember — no, *embrace* — that we are going to die. Coincidentally, I was also told as a child that I had a short (or “interrupted”) life line … but, my goodness, it’s been a FULL life. And knowing that one day it must end has only made it richer and fuller. Cheers to you, Angelina.

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