Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Banana Yoshimoto

Some authors we simply like; with some others we feel like they speak straight to our psyches; a few of them we despise; and a special few we simply adore. For me Banana Yoshimoto falls into the latter category. I adore her. I adore her stories, her writing, her women and her modesty.

I remember that the first book of hers that I’ve ever read was Kitchen, back in 1995 or 1996, when I used to live in Athens, Greece. What I really liked was not the myth or the plot of her stories, but their simplicity. Yoshimoto doesn’t write too much and then subtract, she just doesn’t like to talk, or rather write, too much. She, in my mind’s eye, seems to think there’s no reason to tell a story in a hundred pages when she can say it in fifty. And it’s exactly this frugality of her books that makes them stand out. While reading her prose, you never get the feeling that the author is an intellectual; she’s just a story-teller, and a very good one at that.

One would say that the common denominator in all her books are her heroines: some desperate souls, full of passions and prone to mistakes, who have great or not so big dreams, who, one way or another, seem to seek some kind of fulfillment. More often than not they are kind-hearted women, who seem to have suffered a lot in the hands of destiny, but some of them are pure evil as well. These women make unlikely heroines, mostly because they are so common, as common as most of those that live outside the page. They talk about simple things, like their everyday reality, about their lives and their passions; and they discuss important things, like love and loss, their families and the heavy shadow of death.

There’s just one more element that plays a really big role in her stories; that of the paranormal. In her stories people every now and then talk with the dead, there are ghosts coming and going, and time travel is not something out of the ordinary. The good thing though is that the author doesn’t really seem to think that the ends justify the means; she doesn’t try, at least not too hard, to impress or surprise the reader. It’s as if she just wants to point out that the paranormal is no more than a simple part of life.

If there’s a thing that the Japanese authors excel in, is in writing novellas. This, let’s call it genre of literature, really suits them fine. From Ryu Murakami to Shusaku Endo and from Yukio Mishima to Amy Sakurai and even the famous Haruki Murakami at times, all these masters of the written word try to tell the stories of simple people and their struggles with life, in as few pages as possible. Now, most of them have written long novels as well, and so did Yoshimoto with Amrita. The thing is that she claims that she’ll probably never do it again. And I don’t blame her. The novella is her kingdom. And what a beautiful kingdom it is: rich in passions, full of empathy, a martyr to the big joys and the grant sorrows of life; a kingdom that breathes meaning into the word Humanity.

Banana Yoshimoto’s Books in English translation:

The Lake. You can read my review here and quotes here.
Hardboiled and Hard Luck. You can read quotes here.
Lizard. You can read quotes here.
Goodbye Tsugumi. You can read quotes here.

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