Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book of the Day: "To live alone wth an old person is terribly nerve-wracking, and the healthier he or she is, the more one worries."

Kate Young her been entertaining readers of her Little Library Cafe blog, and The Guardian, for some time with her recreations of food appearing in books. Henry Bemis has been running them, Fridays, on his Facebook page.


Yoshimoto, Banana, Kitchen (Grove Press, 1st English language ed., 1st printing, 1993). ISBN 0-8021-1516-0. Two novellas by a Japanese publishing phenom. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, very condition. HBB price: $45.

When Kitchen was published in English 23 years ago, Elizabeth Hanson wrote in The New York Times,

A JAPANESE maxim warns that "A gentleman does not go near a kitchen." Traditionally a cramped, dingy place -- even in an otherwise well-appointed home -- the old-fashioned kitchen revealed the low status of the women who spent much of their time there. Yet today, though still small by American standards and still largely the domain of women, kitchens are the showcases of Japanese consumer affluence

Banana Yoshimoto's first novel evokes this modern opulence even in its title, which uses the trendy English loan-word kitchin rather than the Japanese term, daidokoro. Ms. Yoshimoto was all of 24 years old when "Kitchen" was published in Japan in 1988; with its kooky young woman protagonist, Mikage Sakurai, the novel -- a best seller that is now in its 57th printing -- clearly has spoken to the author's contemporaries.

"The place I like best in this world is the kitchen," Mikage announces in the very first line. "I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction -- vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom." Left alone in the world when her grandmother dies, Mikage finds that her saddest moods are dispelled by the chance to scrub a refrigerator or even glimpse a busy kitchen from the window of a bus. She is befriended by a young man, Yuichi Tanabe, and his glamorous transsexual "mother," Eriko, and in this household finds some peace -- at least for a time.

Yoshimoto (her first name is Mahoka; she chose “Banana” because she considers banana flowers both “cute” and “purposefully androgynous”) won two major Japanese literary prizes after she published Kitchen at 24, and was shortlisted for the Mishima Prize. The novella was made into two movies, and the story has gone through over sixty printings.


Though chary of overexposure to the public, Yoshimoto has published nineteen books in thirty-three years. She is married to a certified rolfer.

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