This week I read Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. It is actually a novella and a companion short story - "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow" - told through the eyes of a pair of contemporary young Japanese women.
The stories focus on themes of mothers, love, kitchens, tragedy, transsexuality, loneliness, loss, grief, isolation, hope, and redemption. Out of the two stories, I preferred "Kitchen" which included all of the aforementioned themes.
In the story "Kitchen," a teen girl's (Mikage's) grandmother dies, and she is left with no family. She is devastated by her aloneness. Even after being taken in by a classmate, Yuichi, and his mother (who is transsexual) she is unable to shake her feeling of being alone in the world.
Mikage's solace is the kitchen, especially the cooking and sharing of food which is her salvation. Yet, that's not the main focus of this room. Rather, it is in and through kitchens that Mikage feels loss, is saved from despair, and reconnects with life. Further, through food from kitchens, Mikage realizes and nurtures love.
I found this book to provide interesting insight on different types of loss and the bereavement process. It explored how survivors - those closest to people who have died - adjust or find escape in places or things associated with the person who passed away.
One of the things that stood out for me was what Eriko (Yuichi's mother/father) told Mikage: "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....by doing that you come to understand your own limitations. That's where it starts."
Eriko continued, "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."
There was one description of a time when Mikage was along in Yuichi's home after Eriko died tragically and unexpectedly. She said, "The room was so unearthly quiet, I lost all sense of time being divided into seconds. I felt that I was the only person alive and moving in a world brought to a stop. Houses always feel like that after someone had died."
Those few sentences immediately brought me mentally back to the time that I went into the my parents' home after my father had died three months earlier. My mother was in transitional care at a nursing home and I needed to pick up some things for her. I remember entering the home to complete silence - no welcoming announcement ("It's Ann Marie!" - as my dad would often greet me with), no movement, nothing. Just silence. It was literally like time had stopped on the day my father died. The spirit and life of the home was no longer there.
So, reading Yokomoto's words deeply resonated with me. I had never heard anyone describe that deep feeling of aloneness - of silence - of loss. I felt less alone knowing that probably others have felt that same sensation.
Kitchen was recommended to me by a friend, and I'm glad he suggested I read it. Had he not mentioned it, I don't think I would have found it; and been able to enjoy and reflect upon it as I did.