“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.”
Banana Yoshimoto has stolen my heart. Ever since a copy of Kitchen, the novel which made her a Japanese national treasure, turned up in our house, I have been entranced by her simple, perfectly placed prose, her warmth, her touches of the supernatural, the way she layers tiny details to light up the page; snow falling, the moon behind the trees, the smell of food.
And of course there is her name. Sadly it’s not the one she was born with, rather, she is named Mahoko, but chose her pen name based on her love of banana flowers. She likes Banana as it is both ‘cute’ and ‘androgynous’, and it certainly adds a touch of the kitsch and surreal to her works.
Yoshimoto’s debut, Kitchen, features a young woman, Mikage, recovering from the death of her beloved grandmother and gradually forming a close bond with florist Yuichi. It sold like hot cakes in her home country, leading to a phenomenon the press called ‘Bananamania’.
Like many of her works, Kitchen revolves around the transformative power of relationships and people coming to terms with traumas in their past. Her characters undertake redemptive journeys, teach themselves to cook, become therapists, take up running, as they try to heal themselves from the wounds life has inflicted on them.
“There are many, many difficult times, god knows. If a person wants to stand on her own two feet, I recommend undertaking the care and feeding of something. It could be children, or it could be house plants… That’s where it starts.”
Another defining feature of her work is her familiarity with the spirit world, as if it is as casual a fact of life as the furniture in one’s house, or a member of the family. Uncanny dreams often feature in her tales, and she has said she finds artistic inspiration from her own dreams. Her characters have premonitions, or nocturnal conversations with the dead.
As her young characters confront the ghosts of their past and come to understand the world and the good things in it, you are drawn along and feel that you share the insight that they gain. For an elegant, life-affirming read, come and join Banana Yoshimoto in her warm Kitchen.