I discovered Banana Yoshimoto‘s writing when I worked for a few months in a really terribly run bookstore. The manager was a transplant from ToysRUs and I’m not sure she read anything other than The National Enquirer or Weekly World News. She brought over most of her ToysRUs staff to be in supervisory positions, most of whom might have known a lot about toys but didn’t really know very much about books. Which irritated the rest of us, who were either in the middle of or had finished either English Literature or Philosophy degrees. Very shortly the staff became divided. Us versus them. Actually, it was a lot less dramatic than that. Basically what it boiled down to was that those of us who truly loved books spent all our work days searching for new and interesting authors rather than restocking the Bargain books or rearranging the Romance section. We also went out for drinks every Sunday night after the bookstore closed and discussed our new finds. Kind of like a book club, but way cooler.
One of these discoveries was Banana Yoshimoto. I was drawn in first by her name, then the cover art on Amrita, and finally her writing. I started with Kitchen, and have just kept reading, finishing her most recent novel, The Lake, just last month. Her lyrical style has never let me down yet. The themes of love and loss never seem to become clichéd. Yoshimoto claims that her two main themes are “the exhaustion of young Japanese in contemporary Japan” and “the way in which terrible experiences shape a person’s life”.¹ I’m not sure of the first theme, as I am neither young nor Japanese, but I definitely feel the second theme woven throughout her body of work. I think perhaps what I like best about Yoshimoto’s novels is the beauty in the imagery and the words. Some of this credit must also be given to her long time translator, Michael Emmerich, but a translator is only as good as the words he is given.
It’s hard for me to explain exactly why I love Yoshimoto’s work so much. I feel I’m not doing a very good job at expressing myself. If I could use only one word to describe her work, I think it would be lovely. All I really know is that out of a rotten, crummy, part time job came something beautiful. My discovery of the truly beautiful work of Banana Yoshimoto.
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