I recently came across a blog which talked about a short story (well two I guess Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow) which were written in 1988 by Banana Yoshimoto. The blog talked of the impact these novellas had on her on her birthday so I was intrigued, and eventually tracked them down. Though they were brief they were an interesting and challenging read focused on the impact of death and renewal. The death of a grandmother in Kitchen brought the narrator into a new family composed of an interesting young man who would eventually become her lover and his ‘mother’ who was the boy’s father, a transsexual living as the boy’s Mum ever since his real mother had died. In typical Japanese writing style the novel understated the nature of the relationship using food as an analogy and in the last poignant scenes she brought a dish of food many miles to finally signal and begin their new relationship. It was a touching little story and demonstrated how people keep going following tragedy even though their will is weak and their soul is so hurt. Moonlight Shadow traced the loss of a young man, lover to the narrator and her search for some kind of resolution of the pain she felt. Again it was well written and simply expressed.
My second shortish novel around this time was another one from Yoko Ogawa who I had come across when reading for the Man Asian Literary Book Prize. This book was called The Housekeeper and the Professor. It was a delightful and touching story of a housekeeper who comes to care for a 60 something mathematics professor who has a memory span of just 80 minutes following an accident. Despite this he weaves mathematical problems and introduces the housekeeper and the reader to some interesting mathematical puzzles. The professor though repeating many of the experiences on a daily basis as he starts again his relationship with his housekeeper manages to build a relationship with her and her son, writing reminders of his encounters on post-it notes which he pins to his suit. This is a cleverly woven story of someone trying to reach out to another who is continually lost by the shortness of his short term memory but remains in touch with his mathematical genius which he exercises by undertaking puzzles in a local mathematics journal. I highly recommend this novel.
I found this novel like Hotel Iris, a well written and engaging story and one I would certainly recommend.