Banana Yoshimoto | Critical Review by David Galef

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Banana Yoshimoto.
This section contains 583 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by David Galef

Critical Review by David Galef

SOURCE: "Jinxed," in The New York Times Book Review, February 27, 1994, p. 23.

In the following review. Galef argues that NP suffers from superficiality and poor writing.

Like comic books for businessmen and green-tea ice cream, Banana Yoshimoto is a Japanese phenomenon that Americans may find difficult to understand. Though her previous novel, Kitchen, got mixed reviews in the United States, it was a best seller in Tokyo, and she is particularly attractive to the teen-age and young-adult set. Her protagonists tend to be young women adrift, sliding away from family into sensuous romance. The loosely constructed episodes are meant to evoke a mood of what the Japanese call "aware," a contemplative sadness akin to the original meaning of melancholy. In between are pregnant conversations, strange coincidences, erotic interludes and lyrical passages on the weather.

N.P., described as a novel, is actually a series of stories. A Japanese writer named Sarao Takase has completed a collection of 97 stories, also called N.P., before committing suicide. But a 98th story is discovered after his death, and whoever translates it seems as doomed as Takase. The protagonist and narrator, a young woman named Kazami Kano, had a boyfriend, Shoji, who died in the attempt.

Drawn into Takase's world, Kazami is haunted by Takase's twin children, Otohiko and Saki. Also involved is Sui Minowa, an illegitimate daughter of Takase who embodies an odd mixture of mysticism and eros. The characters and incidents are light constructs meant to support a yearning for a return to some primal innocence; unfortunately they more often evoke childish wistfulness, a much shallower emotion.

Ms. Yoshimoto updates what is actually a traditional evocation of "aware" with a hip sensibility. In Kitchen, the twist was that the mother figure was really a father after a sex-change operation. In N.P. the underlying dynamic is incest, which also is the subject of Takase's 98th story. Takase turns out to have slept with his daughter Sui, who eventually gets pregnant by her half-brother, Otohiko. Kazami herself is also more than a little in love with Sui, a feeling eventually reciprocated—and the source of even more wistfulness, as Kazami recounts the strange events of this one summer.

Complicating the plot, and adding another metafictional layer, is the existence of a 99th story by Takase. This sketch concerns a man who cannot communicate with the wife and children he has abandoned. Kazami's father, it emerges, ran off with another woman, one reason that Kazami feels such an odd affinity with the Takase ménage. The desertions are in a sense balanced by new unions, though, ultimately, a sense of longing remains.

The problem with these otherwise serious matters is the lack of depth in the narrative. Repeatedly, Kazami will describe a simple coffee-shop scene or a brief conversation and exclaim over the sadness or strangeness of it. For instance, after Kazami and Saki agree to meet again, Kazami encircles the exchange with an air of pseudo-mystery: "What had just happened, mental telepathy?" Glances always spell volumes. Too often, the mood seems prepackaged.

A more serious flaw is the prose itself. There are too many banalities like "a chill ran down my spine" and "some cruel, twisted fate." The translation by Ann Sherif is not entirely at fault in finding English equivalents for this Japanese mass-market version of melancholy. As for the origin of the title, we are told only that "N.P." stands for "North Point," the name of an old song, "a very sad one." Giving it pop lyrics is no improvement.

(read more)

This section contains 583 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by David Galef
Follow Us on Facebook