Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them.


Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them. When that light has been put out, a heavy shadow of despair descends. (Kitchen, Yoshimoto Banana)
Kitchen is a heartfelt story told by Mikage, the narrator, a young woman orphaned in a big house after the last of her family members (her grandmother) passes away. Grieving and alone, the hum of the refrigerator lulls her to sleep and the kitchen is the only place she feels at ease. Her kind neighbor, Yuichi, and his unconventional mother, Eriko, invite her to stay in their home to help her cope. The kitchen becomes the focal point where Mikage enjoys preparing meals for the three of them, where they come together as a family. Mikage forms a bond with the two of them and after an unforeseeable loss, develops a deeper friendship with Yuichi. She settles back in her home alone and thrives in a new job as a cooking assistant while Yuichi struggles with life, the two of them growing more intertwined in their shared grief. The love story reminded me of Fumi, the narrator in Love Songs from Asleep, where she described a haunting voice that touches "the area of [her] heart that was the most tightly clenched, helping those knots to loosen."

I was surprised to find Moonlight Shadow, Banana Yoshimoto's first novella, included in Kitchen. In Moonlight Shadow, the narrator mourns the death of her boyfriend with his brother. Through a series of magical events, she is able to say goodbye to her loved one and find it in herself to move on. Banana Yoshimoto credits a Mike OIdfield song with the same title as inspiration for the story. Moonlight Shadow feels like a much more compact and romanticized story, sharing the same theme of love and loss. I am certain the English translation doesn't do it justice, but found Kitchen more moving than Moonlight Shadow. A part of me still wonders what Yuichi decided after he finished the katsudon Mikage brought him, did he agree to "go on to more difficult, happier places, whatever comes, together" with her? 

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