Bitches Book Club Review :: Kitchen

The Book Club:

“At the end of May [2015] I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.

SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!

How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.”

This month was Nikki’s choice: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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Book: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Publisher: Faber & Faber, 2001
Genre: Literary Fiction

Summary: Juxtaposes two tales about mothers, trans-sexuality, kitchens, love, tragedy, and the terms they all come to in the minds of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan.
More Information: GoodReads

Nikki’s Thoughts & Rating:

I guess I read a fair bit of Japanese literature now—enough to know I much prefer contemporary Japanese literature to classics at least—and I really love the general feel they tend to have. Japanese novels are often slower and they tend to imply so much feeling while still being reserved and emotionally distant. So that aspect of Kitchen was exactly as I’d suspected it would be. But I actually knew very little about this one going in (to be fair, that’s how I go in to most books though) and it ended up being very different from what I expected. I think I expected a bit more of a Julie & Julia/female friendship/trans-awareness novella, but it ended up being two short stories (the first broken into two parts) dealing with romance, death and grief (in that order).

I really appreciate the exploration of grief and I’ve found myself gravitating to a lot of books dealing with grief recently even though I have not had to deal with any very close deaths yet (and hopefully I won’t have to for a good long time). But I seem to be growing a morbid fascination with it. Maybe it’s to give myself some measure of preparedness. Maybe it’s because I’m just curious about an area of life I don’t yet understand on a personal level yet. I don’t know. But, in fact, one of the main reasons I picked this book was the fact that there were trans-characters in it and I was excited for us to look at this aspect of diversity. I didn’t like the way this aspect was handled though. The message I got from both “trans-characters”‘ stories (though the second was not really a trans-character so much as a young man who wore a girl’s school uniform, but did not identify as a (trans)woman), was that transpeople are driven to changing their gender because of trauma/grief/loss/confusion/some kind of state of disorder… I think that message, at best, misunderstands transpeople while portraying a rather naive (read: basic) view of transfolk and, at worst, is a destructive idea.

As Claire and I both mentioned, neither of us frequents romance very often so, in a way, I’m glad this turned out to be sort of romance because it meant we both stepped out of our comfort zones with this one. (Although it kind of isn’t your typical romance since, for the most part, the amorous parties either don’t really know they’re in love enough to even wonder at the idea until it’s obvious or are driven apart in a very final way.) I appreciated the slow burn romance of the first story because it would be so easy to make it instalove given its short story format. The second was more plainly about love, but also about loss and closure which I haven’t come across much in romance (maybe just because I don’t read much though…! haa). Overall, I wasn’t blown away by this one, but there were definitely things I appreciated in this quiet quickie and I would definitely recommended to certain people.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Nikki’s favourite line(s):

(Claire stole the quote that I added to Goodreads myself haha! So I’ll go with my second quote choice:)

“But if a person hasn’t ever experienced true despair, she grows old never knowing how to evaluate where she is in life; never understanding what joy really is. I’m grateful for it.”

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Claire’s Thoughts & Rating:

Hey everyone! So Nikki’s continued with our awesome WOC writer trend and this was certainly an interesting read. I will say that while Kitchen by Yoshimoto was very interesting and unique- I haven’t read much Japanese fiction but I haven’t read one like this before, or even many books with these themes in the West! Yoshimoto documents notions of love and sexuality with two contemporary Japanese women, with the topic of being trans coming up as well. Overall it was really well written, I just love translated works I think, I find the prose so compelling.

I thought her unique fusion of these topics, especially with the backdrop of the kitchen and the role of food was super interesting and maybe even cultural? I will say this: I loved the strength and power in these women, the way that Yoshimoto describes them and lets you into their heads, is so utterly fascinating I was washed over with it. I didn’t get to enjoy this book as much as I could, partially because I’m not overtly fond of romance, at all, and also I decided to read this book the week before a major client trip so I will say I might have rushed it a bit, rather than appreciating its full majesty. I do intend to come back to it though!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Claire’s Favorite Line:

“As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won’t let my spirit be destroyed.” ”

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Have you read this book yet?

If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?

May’s Book Club choice is Claire’s and she chose…

Feel free to read along with us! 🙂

NameNikkixClaire

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This entry was posted in Book Reviews, International, Romance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bitches Book Club Review :: Kitchen

  1. Pingback: Claire x Nikki Review May (and April) 2016 | Bitches With Books

  2. esteginelle says:

    I’ve never actually read a Japanese novel but I don’t think I would mind a “slow start.” I will give this a try once I’m out of school.

    • Nicole says:

      For a first step into Japanese literature, I would actually recommend Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” or Natsuo Kirino’s “Out” which, although both are longer than Kitchen, are very digestible and engaging and representative of a lot of contemporary Japanese literature (at least of what I’ve read so far). I feel like Kitchen might require a few allowances that are better understood after having read one or two other Japanese works first. But if you do start your Japanese novel exploration with Kitchen, let us know what you think about it! 🙂

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