I loved My Name is Red, but The Museum of Innocence is not even close to the same level of goodness. Most other reviewers who, presumably, finished the book were kind when they wrote it was not Pamuk’s best work.
The same attention to detail of things which worked so well in MNIR gets boring in TMOI because the story doesn’t go anywhere. Kemal’s obsessive love is ruinous. And yet, all we are treated to is the litany of his obsessive pilfering of objects which he does creepy things with to relive the joy that moment brought him. When it got to an actual enumeration of the 4,213 cigarette butts he’d pilfered and catalogued for his museum, I’d had enough.
Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine of “Kitchen,” is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikaga is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart. In a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, “Kitchen” and its companion story, “Moonlight Shadow,” are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a very special writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.
#ReadingIsResistance to the mundane and mainstream. To the idea that love, death, and everything inbetween follows rules. And to the idea family is constrained by blood lines.
I’m finding the more broadly I read authors who are less like me, the more entertaining my world becomes. And I’m finding Japanese authors have wriggled into my readers’ heart.
Enter new (to me) author Banana Yoshimoto, who says on her website she chose the nom de plume because she liked banana flowers. Which is so completely different from the racist term I had most often heard regarding Asian Americans. And while Banana Yoshimoto is not Asian American, but Japanese, that racist epithet is what I immediately thought of. I worry about what that might say about me.
Kitchen is a tenderly written book about death, love in many forms, and what family comes to mean. The title symbolizes the place Yoshimoto’s narrator, Mikaga, becomes most comfortable. The kitchen is what becomes home, regardless of circumstance. A well kept, well stocked kitchen is balm to jangled nerves and the problems which plague every human being.
I came to Japanese writing through Haruki Murakami, the voice of Japanese magical realism. Yoshimoto’s book has hints of magical realism, but it’s grounded in the realities of lives filled with grief from mutual loss, and happiness from mutual kinship. And just under the surface are the oblique references to what can only be referred to as … otherworldly. I’m not sure that’s the right word, but it will have to do because those are the themes touching on the indescribable. It’s the evanescence we all chase after as we seek answers which are bigger than we are.
Mikaga finds comfort in her kitchens, which ground her and give her space to deal with the just on the tip of the brain/heart/lips thoughts of heavier concerns. Kitchen may be about love, and death, and family; it’s also about finding a resting place among the chaos.
A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes almost overnight. As the narrator—a sensitive, passive man who is never named—his mother, father, sister, and uncle move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a large new house on the other side of Bangalore, the family dynamic starts to shift. Allegiances realign, marriages are arranged and begin to falter, and conflict brews ominously in the background. Before he knows it, things are “ghachar ghochar”—a nonsense phrase meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can’t be untied.
Driving home after work one evening, I caught Maureen Corrigan’s review on NPR. So taken with it, I ordered it the next day. And I was not disappointed. My summation comes to this, “Money changes everything.” And when you don’t have it, and all of a sudden get it, life changes in unexpected ways.
In 118 pages, Vivek Shanbhag spins the story of how money changes everything for one family in Bangalore. Of most interest to me were the emotional changes sudden riches wrought. From the overspending, possessively jealous women to the carefree narrator who simply doesn’t understand why his bride finds pride in earning her own money, when he doesn’t need to work at all.
The ghost of no money hovers over this family like a foul-smelling cloud. Money does not bring peace, the way many of us think it would/should. In Ghachar Ghochar, all it does is bring chaos.
I love this little book so much that when our CEO announced his departure, I knew he needed a copy. From someone who loves great stories to someone who also loves them. This is a book I wish I could buy for all my readerly friends.