BOOK REVIEW / Defeated we make dinner: Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto trs Megan Backus: Faber, pounds 12.99

Peter Reading
Sunday 03 January 1993 00:02
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THIS BOOK consists of a pair of deftly juxtaposed, strange novellas, the main theme of which is the sadness, and eventual transcendence, of bereavement. The book was a bestseller in Japan and is now translated into infelicitous (American) English.

In the title-piece, the narrator, Mikage Sakurai, orphaned since childhood, has been brought up by her grandmother. When the old lady dies, the heartbroken Mikage is invited to move in with Yuichi Tanabe, a young florist who knew Mikage's grandmother, and his 'mother', Eriko (in reality the young man's father, transsexually metamorphosed after the death of Yuichi's mother, and now the owner of a gay club). When Eriko is knifed to death by a nutter at the club, Yuichi and Mikage console each other with gastronomic treats and a burgeoning love.

The second story, Moonlight Shadow, tells of Satsuki's love for Hitoshi, a youth of 20 killed in a car crash. Satsuki is at first inconsolable, but gradually shares her tragedy with Hiiragi, Hitoshi's younger brother. Hiiragi's girlfriend Yumiko has also died in the same accident, and the bereft survivors work together towards a resolution of their suffering. They are helped in this by the mysterious Urara, a young woman who tells Satsuki to be present at dawn on a bridge over the river where she may witness a phenomenon 'that only happens every hundred years'.

Yoshimoto's oriental concision is sometimes idiosyncratic and haiku-like ('White tile catching the light, ting] ting]'), but it's a quality of poignant, dignified resilience that makes this little work worthwhile: 'We live like the lowliest worms. Always defeated - defeated we make dinner, we eat, we sleep. Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living is unacceptable.'

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