"In the uncertain ebb and flow of time and emotions, much of one's life history is etched in the senses. And things of no particular importance, or irreplaceable things, can suddenly resurface in a cafe one winter night."
I put Kitchen on my birthday list almost on a whim- I wanted to read more Japanese authors because hellooooo, Murakami! and also because in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch waxed lyrical about Moonlight Shadow, the second story in this really teeny book. I think I'd also seen another of Yoshimoto's books reviewed somewhere in the blogosphere, and I super vaguely remember it being a nice review, and so yeah. I took a shot in the dark with Kitchen.
And oh my gosh. I was kind of blown away, because everything about it- and I mean EVERYTHING- was kind of all the things I love from a book- really lovely writing (even in translation, which kind of seems rare) melancholy and sadness, and, you know, Japanese food. I love it so much that I almost don't even want to talk about the ways I love it for fear of putting you off of it because you are not me, so instead I'll talk about the stories? Yes, let's do that.
So. Kitchen is split into three parts, the first being Kitchen, and the second the aforementioned Moonlight Shadow. They both deal with death and grief and just the not-knowing that comes with the death of someone who was your everything. This doesn't mean that the characters just sit around and cry a lot, though, but more that they're people who are lost and looking for something to replace what they've lost, even if they don't know what that is. And I realise that sounds like a downer but these are things we're all going to have to face in life, and who wants to go into that unprepared by literature?! Not me.
Kitchen, then, follows Mikage Sakurai as she tries to deal with the death of her Grandmother, her last living relative. As she goes through this, she is invited by almost a total stranger (Yuichi) to move into his house with him and his trans mother Eriko which she does and I've just realised I can tell you almost nothing else because spoilers. But let's just say there are some shared dreams going on (of COURSE) and apart from being about grief, it's also just about a young woman trying to learn how to live, as well as live with the new fact that she's responsible only to herself now that she doesn't have any family. Apart from her new strange family.
Anyway. It's really good even if I suck at ever explaining anything properly, and I actually think I liked the second half better than the first because Mikage gets to help Yuichi just as he helped her and it's all very wonderful and oh yeah, did I mention how good the writing is? I mean, I think we all know how much I love some Murakami, but I think that purely in writing terms (on a words level) Yoshimoto has it. Or possibly just has better translators, but I don't think that's what it is.
Moonlight Shadow, though. Now that was amazing. Firstly it feels like more of a complete story than Kitchen (not that incomplete stories are bad, necessarily! And I still really like Kitchen. But this one, maaaan...) and it's just so sad, and so almost mystical and weird and just excellent all round, really. It's the story of Satsuki, (another) young woman whose boyfriend has just died in a car accident, in which his brother's girlfriend was also killed. Satsuki and said brother Hiiragi have struck up a friendship because it seems like they're the only two people who knows how it feels to have suffered such a loss, and THEN these awesome and eerie things happen and oh my gosh you really have to read it so we can discuss it properly because ugh, I loved it.
And I really hate to keep going on about Murakami because I don't want to be like 'Japanese authors! They're all the same!' But Moonlight Shadow definitely felt Murakami-esque in its strangeness (and, you know, sadness) although now that I think of it, it was written before basically any of his major works, so yeah. That's interesting. But anyway, that definitely made me like it better, that it was weird in a sort of familiar way, and it was really just amazing and I want to tell you WHY but also I don't want to and oh, the conflict.
Just read this book, ok? And then be prepared to want to read ALL THE YOSHIMOTO because I'm already onto my second book and there really aren't that many and some aren't even translated so I'm obviously going to have to learn Japanese. Dammit.