Flowers and Hope

Daffodils

This week began with a funeral as my family gathered to say our final farewells to my nanna who passed away at the end of February. By a lovely coincidence, there were daffodils spelling the word Hope, my nanna’s name, on the grounds of the Crematorium.

My nanna turned 93 last September and I feel incredibly lucky to have had her all through my childhood and well into adulthood, but I’ll miss her and life without her will be a huge adjustment for our family. It’s particularly sad timing as she passed away before meeting our baby, her great granddaughter.

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My grandparents on their wedding day in 1947

I’m very grateful to have such a store of memories with my nanna. I’ll remember her reading The Owl and the Pussycat to me when I was very little and reciting King John’s Christmas during Christmas dinner a couple of years ago. I’ll remember the sandwich cakes she baked for birthdays and special occasions, which were perfect every time, never burned, peaked, cracked or soggy. I’ll remember her singing songs from old musicals while she washed dishes, and her twinkling eyes and throaty chuckle as she told personal anecdotes.

When we came to clear out her house, there were only a few keepsakes I wanted, but I dug up some flowers from her garden that I hope will survive being moved to our garden and will always remind me of nanna. Have a lovely week. X

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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Let me preface this review by saying that Kitchen is a book that shouldn’t be judged by the cover, as aside from the garish colours, the description and synopsis on the back cover are downright misleading. This slim book compromises of two standalone stories covering similar themes of grief and loss, Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow.

The first story, Kitchen, is narrated by a young woman, Mikage Sakurai, following the death of her grandmother – and last remaining blood relative. After her grandmother’s funeral, Yuichi Tanabe, a young man who knew her grandmother invites Mikage to live with him and his transgender parent, Eriko; feeling cast adrift and at something of a crossroads in her life, Mikage gratefully accepts. The title of the story refers to Mikage’s favourite room in the home, where she finds a sense of comfort and purpose preparing food for the people she cares about or even just cleaning and setting things in order in the midst of her own turmoil and upheaval.

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Kitchen explores the different ways that the three characters, Mikage, Yuichi and Eriko experience and react to grief. Rather than seeming macabre and depressing, Kitchen is an inspiring and thought-provoking reminder not to sleepwalk through life lost in our daily routines because our time is finite and every moment is precious. As the narrator wrestles with her own highs and lows, she also ponders if we can really appreciate joy and triumph without also experiencing sorrow and disappointment, and it is Mikage’s acceptance of her own loneliness and mortality that encourages her to consider new paths and possibilities.

Unfortunately, Moonlight Shadow is a bittersweet story with similar themes but it just didn’t resonate with me the way that Kitchen did.

This is a short book and so easy to slip into, yet it is one I savoured and will likely re-read. Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘Umami’ by Laia Jufresa

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Umami is a novel set in Mexico City that follows the residents of five houses (named after the flavours sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami) all of whom are experiencing some form of loss or grief. The story has five narrators, there is twelve-year-old Ana trying to make sense of the death of her little sister, Luz; Marina, an artist recovering from anorexia who creates colours to describe emotions; Alfonso, an anthropologist mourning the death of his vivacious wife, Noelia (who was in life grieving her own childlessness); Pina, Ana’s friend and neighbour, trying to understand her mother’s unexplained departure from the family, and finally, Luz, describing the events leading up to her death.

Umami has an unusual and non-linear structure, each chapter focuses on one character during a particular year starting with Ana in 2004, switching to Marina in 2003, then Alfonso in 2002, Luz in 2001 and Pina in 2000, before returning to Ana and working backwards again. The time and character shifts can seem disorientating at first but it allows the story to unfurl gradually and shows how seemingly ordinary interactions between the characters can take on greater meaning and significance once the consequences are fully revealed.

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Umami is a short novel that tackles some big themes such as loss, grief and identity. As Ana and Pina take their first awkward steps towards adolescence, Alfonso is adjusting to his own transition from husband to widower and also describes Noelia’s struggle with her own identity as a wife and respected cardiologist but “only a daughter” because of her childlessness, while Marina attempts to overcome anorexia, an abusive childhood and work out who she is.

The sense of loss that permeates through the novel isn’t the tidal waves of sorrow, anger and shock that wash over us when grief is fresh, but the dull ache of missing someone that never really goes away no matter how many years pass, and of slowly trying to find a new purpose in life.

The slow and thoughtful pace of Umami has been a pleasant contrast to the busy-ness at work and home in my own life over the last few weeks, and Umami is a poignant but hopeful novel that lingers long after the story ends.