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Posts Tagged ‘Banana Yoshimoto’

N.P.‘ by Banana Yoshimoto was recommended to me by friends who were Yoshimoto fans. One of my friends lent it to me and I read it yesterday. This is the third Yoshimoto book that I have read in the past three months. Isn’t that cool?

The story told in ‘N.P.‘ goes like this. Kazami, the narrator of the story, is a young woman who works in the university. She talks about an author called Sarao Takase whom she discovered years back, because her boyfriend of that time, Shoji, was translating one of Takase’s stories, from the original English to Japanese. There was one volume of Takase’s stories in print at that time, and that contained ninety-seven stories. A ninety-eighth story was discovered recently, and Shoji was translating it. Then, suddenly, Shoji commits suicide. And Kazami discovers that the three people who tried translating the story have all committed suicide. Now, during the present time, Kazami bumps into Takase’s son, while taking a walk during lunchtime. Soon, they become friends. Before long, Takase’s daughter also comes to meet Kazami and they become friends too. And soon a mysterious woman called Sui also crosses Kazami’s path. She seems to be related to the Takases. How these friendships and relationships evolve, who the mysterious Sui is, whether a new translation of Takase’s story is attempted, whether the story claims one more sacrifice – the answers to these questions are told in the rest of the story.

I enjoyed reading ‘N.P.‘ It is the story of a complex friendship between four young people, who are linked together by a mysterious author and his last story. It is also a fascinating love story, though an unconventional one. This book was very different from the other two Yoshimoto stories I had read, because Yoshimoto has really pushed the envelope here, with respect to the unconventional part. Yoshimoto’s prose is spare and glides elegantly through the pages. I read the book in an evening – that is how fast the pages flew by. The book also has some fascinating thoughts on translation which are thought-provoking. The ending of the story is interesting and complicated. Kazami says in the end – “I saw the sky and sea and sand and the flickering flames of the bonfire through my tears. All at once, it rushed into my head at tremendous speed, and made me feel dizzy. It was beautiful. Everything that had happened was shockingly beautiful, enough to make you crazy.” You have to read the book to find out why she says that.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“A person without a voice gradually loses language. For the first two days, my thought processes remained the same as before. If my sister stepped on my foot, I would think “ouch” in words. When a place I had been to before appeared in TV, my thoughts would virtually be in the same form as the words might have come out of my mouth at that moment, had I been able to speak – like, “Oh, I know where that is. I wonder when they filmed this,” or something like that.
But after a period of being unable to speak those words, something changed in my head. I came to see the array of colors that lay behind words. When my sister was being nice to me, I perceived a brilliant image of pink light. My mother’s words and gestures when she was teaching us English were gold; a bright yellow orange cane through the palm of my hand when I bent down to pat our cat as she wandered by.
Living like that utterly convinced me of the extreme limitations of language. I was just a child then, so I had only an intuitive understanding of the degree to which one loses control of words once they are spoken or written. It was then that I first felt a deep curiosity about language, and understood it as a tool that encompasses both a single moment and eternity.”

“Time stopped. Perhaps God in his grace glanced down upon us then. It was that peaceful, for an eternal moment, in the valley of the night…When I thought about that moment later, in the light of day, it didn’t seem so monumental. But when it came upon me, the touch of darkness was undeniably vast and pure.”

Have you read Banana Yoshimoto’sN.P.‘? What do you think about it?

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So what do you do after reading one Banana Yoshimoto book? You read another Banana Yoshimoto book 🙂 That is what I did! I read ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘. This book came out in Japanese in 1989 – that was in a really different era. This is the third book I read for Women in Translation Month.

The story told in ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘ goes like this. Maria lives with her mother, aunt and uncle, and two cousins, Yōko and Tsugumi, in a seaside town. Her aunt and uncle run an inn there, and tourists generally come and stay in their inn during summer. Maria’s father lives in Tokyo. He is right now involved in a divorce battle with his first wife. Once things are finalized on that front, he hopes to take Maria and her mother to Tokyo so that they can live together as a family. Maria, Yōko and Tsugumi are close friends, but are very different from each other. Yōko is the nice person, the angel. Tsugumi is the sharp-tongued one. But there is something about Tsugumi. She has a permanent health condition. She falls ill frequently. She hides her physical vulnerability behind her sharp tongue. But behind that sharp-tongued girl, there is a strong person who is fearless, and who has a heart of gold. One day Maria’s father arrives and says that everything has been resolved and Maria and her mother can now come and live with him in Tokyo. Maria and her mother move out. Maria starts going to college. One day Tsugumi calls her and says that her parents are going to sell off the inn and this would be their last summer there. She invites Maria to come and spend that summer with them. Maria accepts. That summer, the last one, turns out to be unforgettable. What happens during that summer forms the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘. Tsugumi is one of the great characters – her sharp tongue, not showing respect for anyone, her readiness to fight for a good cause and go to any extent for it, her sense of humour and her love for pranks, and the way she goes to all lengths to make a prank look real, the way she goes beyond her physical limitations and pain and tries to live life to the full – it is beautiful and inspiring to watch. Yōko is wonderful and one of the nicest people one can meet within the pages of a book. This book is such a beautiful love letter to the joy of friendships. The friendships between Maria and Tsugumi, and Maria and Yōko are beautifully portrayed in the book – they are very different and each friendship is unique in its own way. Kyōichi appears a little later in the book and his relationship to Tsugumi which borders between friendship and love is also wonderfully portrayed in the book. Banana Yoshimoto’s prose flows so smoothly that the pages just fly. I finished reading the book in a day which rarely happens for me.

Most of the story is set in the seaside town and I loved the descriptions of the sea and its surroundings. It made me think of some of my favourite descriptions of the sea. To tempt you with more, I’m giving below a description of the sea from this book and from another of my favourite books, ‘Promise at Dawn‘ by Romain Gary. Do tell me which one you like more.

From ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘ by Banana Yoshimoto

“It’s a marvelous thing, the ocean. For some reason when two people sit together looking out at it, they stop caring whether they talk or stay silent. You never get tired of watching it. And no matter how rough the waves get, you’re never bothered by the noise the water makes or by the commotion of the surface – it never seems too loud, or too wild…the ocean had always been there, in the good times as well as the bad times of my life, when it was sweltering out and the beach was filled with people, and in the dead of winter when the sky was heavy with stars…it remained just as it was, fanning out around the edge of our town and zooming quietly off into the distance, the tide rising and falling just as it always did, no matter what…And it seemed to me that even if you weren’t actively letting your emotions ride its surface, the ocean still went on giving you something, teaching you some sort of lesson.”

From ‘Promise at Dawn‘ by Romain Gary

“My first contact with the sea was unforgettable. I had never met anything or anybody, except my mother, who had a more profound effect on me. I am unable to think of the sea as a mere “it” – for me she is the most living, animated, expressive, meaningful, living thing under the sun. I know that she carries the answer to all our questions, if only we could break her coded message, understand what she tries persistently to tell us. Nothing can really happen to me as long as I can let myself fall on some ocean shore. Its salt is like a taste of eternity to my lips. I love it deeply and completely, and it is the only love which gives me peace.”

So which one do you like more? Is it Banana Yoshimoto or Romain Gary? Do share your thoughts.

In a story like this in which the lead character has a permanent health condition, the inevitable happens in the end and the dreaded phone call arrives. As the narrator picks up the phone, and the author pauses with her pen hovering over paper, contemplating on the fate of her lead character, our heart leaps from joy to heartbreak, from agony to ecstasy, as we go through the whole spectrum of emotions, and we hope and pray that the author decides to do the right thing and saves us from heartbreak. What happens at the other end of the phone call? I am not going to tell you that, of course. You have to read the book and find out.

I’ll leave you with two more of my favourite passages from the book.

“Love is the kind of thing that’s already happening by the time you notice it, that’s how it works, and no matter how old you get, that doesn’t change. Except that you can break it up into two entirely distinct types – love where there’s an end in sight and love where there isn’t. People in love understand that better than anyone. When there’s no end in sight, it means you’re headed for something huge.”

“This world of ours is piled high with farewells and goodbyes of so many different kinds, like the evening sky renewing itself again and again from one instant to the next – and I didn’t want to forget a single one.”

Well, that’s it 🙂 I loved ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘. It is one of my favourite books of the year. I want to read more Banana Yoshimoto now. ‘Kitchen‘ and ‘N.P.‘ are recommended by every Yoshimoto fan I know. I am hoping to read them soon.

Have you read ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Banana Yoshimoto book?

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I have wanted to read a Banana Yoshimoto book for a long time since one of my friends recommended it. I got ‘Moshi Moshi‘ as a present from one of my friends and I decided to read it this week. This is my second book for WIT Month.

In ‘Moshi Moshi‘, the narrator Yoshie starts the story by describing the neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa in Tokyo. She quotes a description of Shimokitazawa, that a character gives in a movie. It goes like this :

“The clutter of streets and buildings, which seem to have been left to spread and grow without any thought – they sometimes appear very beautiful, like a bird eating a flower, or a cat jumping down gracefully from a height. I feel that what might seem at first sight to be carelessness and disorder in fact expresses the purest parts of our unconscious.
“When we start something new, at first it is very muddy, and clouded.
“But soon, it becomes a clear stream, whose flow conducts itself quietly, through spontaneous movements.”

Yoshie then describes how she ended up moving there. Her father had died under mysterious circumstances. It looks like he had a suicide pact with an unknown woman who might have been his lover. Yoshie and her mother are shocked and heartbroken. After the funeral is over and things have settled down, Yoshie moves out of her parents’ home into a small apartment in Shimokitazawa. She gets a job in a bistro which is opposite her apartment. Michiyo-san runs the bistro and she is an amazing chef. Yoshie admires her and loves working with her. While Yoshie tries to settle down into her new life, one day her mother walks in. Her mother says that she can no longer live in their family home and she wants to stay with Yoshie for a while. After some initial hesitation, Yoshie agrees. And thus starts a new phase in their relationship when the mother and the daughter start treating each other like friends and roommates. And then things start happening. People who knew something about Yoshie’s father stop by and start revealing secrets. Yoshie starts having a dream about her father. She feels it might be her father’s ghost trying to talk to her. Then a handsome man starts visiting the bistro and tries courting Yoshie.

Is Yoshie able to come out of her grief and get on with her life? What about her mother? How do they handle the secrets that come tumbling out? Is it really her father’s ghost which is trying to talk to Yoshie? Does Yoshie respond to the handsome man’s courting and is she able to find love in her life? The answers to these are found in the rest of the story.

I am glad I read my first Banana Yoshimoto book. I liked ‘Moshi Moshi‘ very much. It is a beautiful, poignant portrait of a family in mourning, how the family members handle grief and the surprising revelations about their loved one, and how they come out of grief and get back to their normal lives, and how their loved ones and kind strangers help them in their journey. It is also a beautiful love letter to food and to the beautiful place called Shimokitazawa. Michiyo-san, the chef in the bistro was one of my favourite characters in the book – she is such a beautiful person who elevates cooking to an art and creates perfection in the kitchen and delivers it on the plate. There is a four-page afterword at the end of the book in which Banana Yoshimoto shares her thoughts on the book and how some of it might have been inspired by her own father and how some of the old, beautiful, traditional places in Shimokitazawa are closing down now. She also talks about how there is a real-life Michiyo-san (her name is Yoshizawa-san) who ran a bistro in Shimokitazawa and how she is still running a restaurant in Tokyo which is doing very well and how her barley salad still tastes of life. Well, if I ever visit Tokyo, I want to meet Yoshizawa-san and try her barley salad. That afterword made me love the book and Banana Yoshimoto even more.

I had just one problem with the book. This is a spoiler and so please be forewarned. Without revealing much, I found the way the main character overanalyzes and talks herself out of a relationship with a man who looks perfect for her, and talks herself into a relationship with a man who is unsuitable for her – I found that too forced and somehow tacked in. I felt that it didn’t hang in comfortably with the rest of the story.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

Context : This is spoken by Yoshie’s mother to Yoshie

“The main thing I’m careful of is to really take my time when I’m walking. Go slowly, like I used to when I was a student. Because that’s all I’ve got now. Time.
“You know how the flow of time through a day slows down around late afternoon, and then quickens again after the sun goes down? I finally recovered my ability to sense it, recently, and now I can get in touch with that flow each day.
“I can sense the border between when time dribbles on and stretches, like a warm rice cake, and when it suddenly pulls in tight, and speeds up again. I love being able to do that. I look forward to it every day.
“I’d forgotten about it, you know? Even though when I was a kid, I sensed it no problem, even if I stayed inside all day.
“That’s the kind of phase I’m in right now. I want to let myself take in the flow of time again, without having to think or worry about anything.”

Context : This is spoken by Yamazaki-san, a family friend, to Yoshie

“My old mother’s nearly ninety, but each year in spring she still puts up vegetable preserves – cooks them down into tsukudani with soy sauce, sweet rice wine, and sugar. And each year, when I taste that familiar flavour, we both know it could be the last time she makes the spring tsukudani. But that’s just thoughts. When my mother gets a bumper crop of butterbur or prickly ash, she just gets to it, starts cooking, even if it’s hard work. She’s not thinking about what might happen next year. The great thing about the everyday is that we don’t care about next year, as long as the tsukudani turns out good this spring. So I let go, too, and instead of getting maudlin over every mouthful, I just say, Mom, your tsukudani’s so good, it’s the best, I’m so glad I get to eat it again this year, it makes rice taste so good. And I think there’s a case to be made for you finding your appetite for enjoying that kind of happiness.”

I loved Banana Yoshimoto’sMoshi Moshi‘. I can’t wait to read more of her books. Have you read ‘Moshi Moshi‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Banana Yoshimoto book?

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