Rad Riot Reviews: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Celebration of found family through food is the main course in this kitchen!

The kitchen. It’s the heart of every house. It’s where your body gravitates you towards every morning before your senses have had the time to wake up. It’s where small talk doesn’t feel forced. It’s where conversations become lucid with every seasoning. It’s where you think, where you ponder, where you feel, where you laugh, where you cry. It’s where you break up, then make up. It’s where you grieve. Banana Yoshimoto’s modern literary classic Kitchen examines such a familial space to explore coping with grief, love, acceptance and the magic of found family.

The kitchen. It’s Mikage Sakurai’s favourite place. After losing her grandmother and all of her living relatives, Mikage finds herself spending more time in the kitchen. It’s the one place that makes her feel a little less alone. When a close confidante of her grandmother invites her to his place indefinitely, her eyes traverse across the space and relax at the sight of the kitchen. Mikage finds herself growing closer to Yuishi Tanabe, her host and his mother, Eriko Tanabe, the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, who Yuishi tells her is in fact, trans.

With every dish of soupy rice and tea Mikage makes for Yuishi and Eriko, she gets closer to acknowledging the impact of not having any living biological family members. With every excuse to use the Tanabe’s kitchen with their eccentric equipment, Mikage slowly starts to grieve for her grandmother. Mikage is delighted every time she gets to cook for Yuishi and Eriko. Through chicken Kiev and dumplings, Mikage prepares every dish with the love and nourishment she had cherished from her grandmother for her new found family in Yuishi who also suffers a loss.

Like Mikage, I love kitchens. It’s where I have the fondest memories of my grandmothers. I can still remember how the savoury delicious scent of curried crab and the sweet aroma of aamrakhand immediately turned a frown into a smile. My grandmothers and I may not be able to share the same epicurean bond, I still find myself in the kitchen hovering over a pan with a seasoning in hand. Because, like Vision said, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

While the prose may be esoteric, the depictions of food, relationships and love are like a warm cup of tea on a gloomy night. The addition of a loving trans mother who craves to be a good parent and enjoys company makes Kitchen a modern queer masterpiece. For a book that’s more than three decades old, it seems as familiar as a walk to the kitchen for your morning cup of coffee.

Rad Riot Reads is column written by members of the Rad Riot Books community that reviews literary works from the Global South, translated, queer, migrant and anti-oppressive literature.

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