By Annika Mehta

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” – Lemony Snicket

As some of you may know, on the 7th of March it was World Book Day. This is an annual day that is celebrated across the globe to celebrate the art of story-telling, literature and reading. This year’s theme was ‘share a story’, so, I thought I’d do just that! These are some short (but hopefully sweet) book reviews of some of my absolute favourite pieces of literature. I hope you enjoy and this inspires you to pick up one of these books, or any book at all for that matter.

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kitchen - banana yoshimoto

This book is quite possibly one of my absolute favourites. Banana Yoshimoto's novels have made her a sensation in Japan and all over the world, and Kitchen, the quite frankly dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, is an enchantingly original and heart-warming book. The book is comprised of two stories, Kitchen, from which the title of the book comes, and Moonlight Shadows, both of which look at love and loss; they have the simple message that life goes on and it will do no one, least of all you, any good to remain in the past.

Yoshimoto’s style is both lyrical and stylistically sophisticated; she has a youthful and genuinely joyful tone which not only leaves the reader grinning uncontrollably at the childish excitement Mikage, the protagonist of the first story in Kitchen, exudes when she talks about kitchens or food, but creates a deep warmth and familiarity within the reader, conveying an implicit and more subtle message about life, love and loss. The book is also incredibly open minded and captures Yoshimoto’s liberal and forward-looking point of view wonderfully. One of the main characters is the beautiful yet independent and strong Eriko, a transsexual woman who has faced so many hardships in her life and has yet continued on with a smile of her ‘radiant’ face. Yoshimoto neither bases Eriko’s character around her gender identity nor dismisses it- something that is still not done in current literature.

The second story in the book looks at the feelings experienced in the aftermath of loss and moving on after the death of someone deeply loved. This story, more so than Kitchen, I think, is a more heart wrenchingly candid and unflinchingly honest piece, beautifully constructed in lyrical and refreshing prose.

I would recommend this book with the utmost sincerity. As well as Kitchen, Yoshimoto has written a collection of short stories entitled Asleep, which is also a gorgeous and very enjoyable read.

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The Waves is Virginia Woolf's "play-poem", as she put it; a colloquy of six voices. It is about both continuity and difference, about both the instability and constancy of the self and of friendship. The novel traces the intertwined lives of six friends from childhood, through the first recognition of individuality, onto adolescence, adulthood, middle age; they meet, part, become lovers, parents; they age, they mourn.

Woolf’s writing revels in lyricism and the natural flow of words, carrying the reader through the story- though not without concentration on the reader’s part. I picked it up having been warned that it was a difficult read, which proved to be true. It took three attempts for me to finish the book, but the slightly bewildering awe I felt toward Woolf upon finishing it is a feeling I have not yet forgotten, as cliché as that may sound. Stylistically, the novel is a masterpiece of creativity and skill; Woolf’s adept manipulation of language and story-telling has created an unforgettable set of stories and an unforgettable writing style in its own right. In fact, most people have heard of The Waves not because of its plot but because of how it is written.

Again, this is a book I would recommend with great enthusiasm, although I will reiterate the warning I was given: it is a hard read and I found myself on more than a handful of occasions completely lost and having to reread a page or two to regain my footing. However, don’t give up on this one, it’s truly a brilliant read. Woolf’s other books- Orlando, To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, to name a few, are also stunning pieces of writing and played a huge role in shaping 20th Century literature.

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Memoirs of a Geisha is a novel based on the true story of one of Japan’s most famous geisha. I had been gifted this book by someone who found out about my new-found fascination with Japanese literature and it’s genuinely one of the best books I’ve received so far. It’s quite a long book, but so incredibly engaging it’s beyond explanation; somehow, I read the 500 or so pages of this novel within two days- I quite literally couldn’t put it down.

The novel itself is quite contentious for reasons to do with the accuracy and romanticising of Golden’s version of the story and because he published the name of the geisha whose life story the novel is based on, despite her explicit request to remain anonymous. However, all of this aside, the story and the way in which it is told is truly captivating and both a fascinating and enjoyable read. In the novel, we enter a world where appearances and social status are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder and women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful - and completely unforgettable. Not only do you learn about the intricacies of this integral part of Japanese culture and heritage, but you are presented with a deeply human and beautifully written story, crafted with skill and care.

So, this too is a book I would recommend ardently; if not to learn about Japanese culture, read it purely for the story-telling, for the skill and style of writing that Golden showcases in this phenomenal work of literature.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these reviews and that you now want to pick up a book, be it one of these books, something someone else has recommended or something you’ve been meaning to start but just haven’t gotten around to. Have a good Easter break and happy reading!