Translated from the original Japanese by Megan Backus
Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
Review posted: 02/05/05
This slim novel is filled with light and whimsy. Strange, when you consider the fact that the novel deals so heavily with the subject of death. Neatly constructed, each word seems to have been chosen with precision and delicacy. Told from the point of view of young woman named Mikage, we meet her as she is struggling to come to terms with her grandmotherís death. When Yuichi and his mother, Eriko invite Mikage to stay with them, it seems like a miracle, pulling her out of herself and back into the world.
The first thing we learn about Mikage is that her favorite place in the world is to be in a kitchen. While Yoshimoto steers clear of the kind of magical realism that drove the novel Like Water for Chocolate, the same literary sense prevails. The power of food to move us, fulfill us and change us is clearly illustrated in this story.
Growing up in a family from the south, food was extremely important. I donít think Iíve ever been to a relativeís home and not been fed. For the most part we didnít have formal dining rooms, so weíd all drag chairs over to the kitchen table and pile around. The kitchen has a sense of home for many people, and the novel Kitchen understands that concept implicitly.
The companion novella Moonlight Shadow is included in the same volume, and although they both deal with the subject of death, they take two very different paths. While Kitchen deals with finding comfort with the living, Moonlight Shadow seeks comfort in those who have moved on. The connections between this world and the next are explored deftly, and Yoshimoto tentatively dabbles in mysticism in this short but sweet story.
The combined tales of Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow make a tangled but fascinating set of stories. Originally released in the late 1980s, the stories remain and interesting and fresh today as they were then.