Do you have your dream kitchen? Surprisingly, my un-renovated seventies kitchen is perfect in every way – tonnes of cupboard space with clever recessed shelves, strategically placed lighting so that you’re never chopping in shadow and the most fabulous original orangey-red tiles. I wouldn’t change a thing (even though my mum says the tiles give her a headache). When it comes to domestic fantasies, mine are actually about laundries – don’t get me started, the plans are grand. And if you have a ‘European laundry’ (i.e. a washer in a cupboard), I weep for you*.
Kitchens. It brings me to Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. First published in Japan in 1988, Kitchen won a handful of prizes and quickly became a best-seller in Japan. Which is why it might seem somewhat sacrilegious to Yoshimoto fans when I say I just didn’t get it.
Kitchen (actually two novellas in one book, the other being Moonlight Shadow) is a story about grieving, ‘mothering’ (because the mothers are not of the norm) and finding love.
“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. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!).”
Yoshimoto’s writing style is straightforward and a little odd. It’s like watching a play put on by kids – endearingly awkward.
“His smile was so bright as he stood in my doorway that I zoomed in for a closeup on his pupils. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I think I heard a spirit call my name.”
Quoted without context the writing isn’t easy on eye but within the quiet setting of the story, the unadorned sentences sit better.A quote from the story actually sums up my reading experience perfectly –
“The incredible ease and nonchalance of the conversation made my brain reel. It was like watching Bewitched. That they could be this cheerfully normal in the midst of such extreme abnormality.”
When I’m reading translated fiction, I often wonder whether the translator is doing the original words justice – does the ‘feel’ translate? The cadence of a sentence? The intention of particular words? Never have I been more acutely aware of this than whilst reading Kitchen. Because of the fact that the words are apparently so uncomplicated, I imagine it was quite easy to bugger up. How does Megan Backus’s translation hold up? I’ll never know (unless I suddenly become fluent in Japanese) however there were moments when syntax was a little clunky, particularly during dialogue.
2/5 Lost in translation.
‘Soupy’ rice, freshly-squeezed juices, tea, ramen noodles, cucumber salad and complicated omelets fill this story but I did love this this:
“…I would make carrot cakes that included a bit of my soul. At the supermarket I would stare at a bright red tomato, loving it for dear life. Having known such joy, there was no going back.”
So although it’s far from the dominant Japanese theme, I’m choosing carrot cake to go with Kitchen. In particular, this Carrot, Orange and Pistachio Cake via Dear Love Blog.