Well this little book took me by surprise and happily so. I’m sure that says something terrible about me that I had no idea this book existed, but it’s all good. I know now and the delicately drawn characters will walk beside me for a long time to come. It is interesting that the last two books I have read explore death. I really didn’t plan it that way.
In Kitchen, Mikagi has just lost her grandmother, who was her primary caregiver after her parents died when she was young. She is foundering, struggling to understand her place in this new world where she is all alone. A schoolmate, Yuichi, invites her to come live with his mother and himself. Numb, but willing to accept this kindness, she moves in. Yuichi’s mother is a revelation.
“Still, she was stunning. She made me want to be with her again. There was a warm light, like her afterimage, softly glowing in my heart. That must be what they mean by ‘charm’. Like Helen Keller when she understood ‘water’ for the first time, the word burst into reality for me, a living example before my eyes. It’s no exaggeration; the encounter was that overwhelming.”
That Eriko is actually Yuichi’s father, now transformed into his mother, seems right. After Yuichi’s mother died from cancer, Eriko, then Yuji, struggled with how to carry on with life for himself and his young son. Eventually, he decided to become a woman, had surgery and bought a club to support the family.
Mikagi spends the next six months with them, working through her grief by teaching herself to cook. The times that they all gather to share a meal give her hope and family. She eventually moves out on her own, quits school and goes on to become an assistant to a celebrity chef. One day Yuichi calls to tell her that his mother has been killed in her club by a crazed stalker. Reeling, she tries to reach out to Yuichi, as he did to her. The novella ends on such a beautiful note of hope.
Moonlight Shadow, also deals with death. Satsuki is staggering through her days trying to come to terms with the sudden death of her lover and soulmate, Hitoshi. A chance meeting with a mysterious young woman brings her an unexpected ray of hope in the form of “The Weaver Festival Phenomenon”. Quietly breathtaking.