I enjoyed this novel much more than I ever anticipated. For a book about a character stranded in grief it felt incredibly warm and idealistic.
Yoshi moves to Shimokitazawa to work in her favorite bistro escaping her family home in Meguro after the shocking death of her father. Found to have died in a suicide pact with another woman, Yoshi is plagued by his loss and confusion between the beloved father she thought she knew, and the revelation that she did not know him quite that well.
In her early 20s, Yoshi thinks making it on her own will be her way forward. That is until her mom shows up on her doorstep asking to stay.
I was worried at this point that the two women would fight or depress each other while sharing the small shanty apartment, however, what happens next is the blossoming of friendship between mother and daughter.
The neighborhood of Shimokitazawa which becomes their escape falls somewhere between acting as a character itself, and acting as a settling with a strong sense of place. Its trendiness is referenced constantly, its shops and keepers checked off a mental list of lovely places, and Yoshi analyzes it as time passes and seasons change, but it's actually not interacted with all that much on behalf of Yoshi.
However, this ends up working because this novel is largely the inner monologue of a young woman trying to stand on her own two feet within the added burden of having suffered a personal tragedy.
We witness Yoshi's relationship to food, to her mother, to herself, to her work, to romance, & to her dead father's memory. Grief has infected all of these things, but some heal faster than others, like food which becomes a lifeline.
She tries out many things in her journey to keep moving forward & in the end realizes which ones worked, and which didn't, as her life again starts to have its own meaning.
Though not a mystery story, mystery hugs the fringes of the plot. Will we learn the true reason for the father's death? Will we learn about the woman he died with? Will Yoshi make it out of her grief? Will the mother? How will this trauma change their lives?
I especially enjoyed the distinction drawn between the grief of the mother, a wife who has lost a husband in such a scandalous way, versus Yoshi, a daughter who has lost a father.
The mother's story is so alluring. Since she finds herself starting over late in life she makes the transition back to her authentic self. A woman very different than the one Yoshi knew in Meguro. As the reader you almost wish you were reading her story at times, a feeling which mirrors Yoshi's own feelings as she wonders if her mother is getting on easier than she is.
There is a romantic plot. I originally thought it was simply a means to an end, as Yoshi is trying all sorts of things to get her life going again, but near the end it gains greater focus, and does feel a bit heavy handed by the author. I didn't love its execution, but plot wise it felt like a resolution.
Unfortunately, the copy that I read could have used another round of edits. There were typos, and missing/incorrect words, so do be prepared for that.
A Popular Critique of Banana Yoshimoto's Work
I've seen the critique made that Banana Yoshimoto's characters are unbelievable. They're too philosophical. They just do and say things that normal people never would.
I did not have that impression while reading Moshi Moshi. As mentioned before it is an extremely introspective book. The plot is all internal struggle. And the journey is of the main character working through her grief to get back to a life of contentment.
If a person is TRUELY thinking deeply & HONESTLY striving to figure things out, I believe it makes complete sense that their thoughts would become more philosophical.
So I did not find it hard to believe that these characters who find themselves bound by the same extraordinary circumstance would speak about it in the way that they did. I loved each time they said something poignant. I assumed they were offering up the thoughts which endlessly bounced around in their heads as they worked through the feelings. They exclusively spoke to each other in that manner. Yoshi did not go off on rants to her boss, an outsider, but was candid with her mother, a close family friend, and sometimes a lover.
^ That being said. This is the first Banana book that I have read, and it might be more overt in other titles. My impression could also be the result of a cultural difference, or a translation difference.
However, Banana Yoshimoto also addresses this critique in the afterward of Moshi Moshi. She says that even though she wrote Moshi Moshi first, when she lost her own father her thoughts in real life mirrored what she had wrote in the book. So, perhaps, there is a group of people introspective enough, with an honest enough drive to figure things out, who can get their inner thoughts to that philosophical place.
And if you think you might be one of those people, you may just love this book.
Genre: Contemporary, Japan, Woman in her Early 20s, Grief, Food
Length: 208 pages
Plans to Continue? I'm not sure. I know I don't love books about grief stricken characters & that seems to be her thing. But I would like to give her another chance to again be my exception to the rule.
What This Story has to Offer You
A Trendy Neighborhood
Strong Sense of Place
The Healing Power of Food
Suicide of a Parent
Warm / Idealistic Tone
Mother Daughter Friendship
Rebuilding a Life
Thanks for reading!
Picture taken by me, edited in VSCO