I first began reading the works of Banana Yoshimoto when I was in high school, drawn to her funny name (this is before Gwyneth named her daughter Apple and Hollywood celebrities scattered the gossip pages with ridiculous baby names) and pulled deep into the beautiful sadness of Kitchen, the first of two novellas that launched Yoshimoto onto the literary scene. It is about loss and the kindness of strangers, about love and memory, and about cooking. I may forget what I had for breakfast this morning, or the conversation I had with a colleague two hours ago, but I will remember for the rest of my life her description of a bowl of katsudon, remember how she describes the light in the kitchen going ting! ting! against the gleaming tiles.
There is a luminous quality to her writing, to the way she uses words, in such a way that even in moments of sadness you feel as though you are looking out into a landscape washed clean by the rain, a spring rain, that falls heavily but with warmth. As though the sun has not yet flooded the scene before you, but you can sense the possibility of sunlight, the possibility of happiness ahead. Even with the weight of sorrow there is such a feeling of lightness as you read, faster and faster, eager to see what will come next, what will happen on the next page. Kitchen was the first book I read by Yoshimoto, and there have been others since, but I have not loved anything with the same fierce intensity until now, now that I have come across Goodbye Tsugumi, which I found late one night while browsing the internet (as so often happens).
For one last summer Maria returns to the family inn where she spent her childhood, with her cousins Tsugumi and Yoko, the former at times cruel and petty and spoiled, at other times as close as her own skin, the way sisters are, the way your cousins become a part of you when you grow up together. Maria has moved to Tokyo, and the family inn is to be sold; that part of her life is soon to come to an end, so this last summer is a final goodbye to the place where she grew up, and perhaps a goodbye to Tsugumi as well, who has always been frail and ill and perpetually on the verge of death (a fact which she always used to get her own way).
It is a peculiar feeling - and I speak from experience - to have the solitude of being an only child, that sense of being part of something isolated, just your parents and you, the three of you, a solid, perfect, triangle - and yet have it periodically interrupted by your cousins who become like siblings, as close as siblings. I think this story resonates so clearly with me because it calls forth echoes of my own childhood with my cousins, who are like my brothers, and vacations by the seaside. Always the seaside, with the endless horizon stretching before you, as though you are standing at the edge of the world, where everything and anything is possible, where grief can fling itself into those endless depths of the sea and be washed away by the tide...