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Banana Yoshimoto's 'practical' novels solace for distressed readers

All Headlines 15:12 December 03, 2009

By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- One cause has driven Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto to continue writing for the past two decades: providing solace to lonely and discouraged souls.

"My books might not be what you call 'superior literature,' but they are practical books that can serve as a medicine to delicate and sensitive people," the author said at a Seoul press conference Thursday. "I believe everyone is in search of such consolation regardless of generation and nationality."

Yoshimoto, whose books have been translated and published in more than 30 countries around the world, said her own confused past as a youngster helped her write stories that focus on "healing emotionally wounded people."

Many of her books feature characters who have experienced the death of loved ones, breakups and other mishaps, later overcoming their travails through family and friendship.

Yoshimoto herself identified her main themes as the "exhaustion of young people in contemporary Japan" and the "way in which terrible experiences shape a person's life."

"After going through difficult times as a youngster, I began to see other emotionally distressed people," the 45-year-old author said. "As the case might also be in Korea, Japanese youths are going through very dark times. I want to give them hope by writing something that can heal them."

Yoshimoto visited Seoul for the second time to promote the publication of her book "Daisy's Life (Hinagiku no jinsei)" in Korea.

The book is a collection of stories Yoshimoto wrote for a magazine in 2000 alongside drawings by renowned Japanese artist Nara Yoshitomo. A widely-known acquaintance of the author, Yoshitomo also did the illustration work for two other of her books.

"The artist and I discussed the story at great length. It was a good collaboration and a unique experience for me," she said.

The book features Daisy, who finds solace through friendship after witnessing her mother's death as a child.

Yoshimoto is considered one of the most widely-known and successful Japanese contemporary writers with her works -- 12 novels and seven collections of essays -- together selling over 6 million copies worldwide.

Yoshimoto began her writing career in 1987, taking the pseudonym "Banana" which she considers "purposefully androgynous." Her debut novel, "Kitchen," was an instant success with over 60 printings in Japan alone.

Although some literary critics call her work superficial and lightweight, Yoshimoto has a trail of female readers all over the world, attracted to her writing style and simple stories highlighting the frustration of contemporary Japanese youths.

Yoshimoto won the 39th edition Best Newcomer Artists Recommended Prize by Japan's Minister of Education in 1988 for "Kitchen." In 1989, "Goodbye Tsugumi" was awarded the 2nd Yamamoto Shugoro Literary Prize. In 1994 her first long novel, "Amrita," was awarded the Murasaki-shikibu Prize.

The author said her literary style "took a turn" after she gave birth to her son in 2003.

"I did not notice any changes then and was quite disappointed. But looking back over the past six years now, I see that my writing style did change in a way to embrace a broader age group," she said.

An avowed fan of Korean food, the author said she plans to spend the rest of her time in Seoul until Friday "eating."

"I don't have a single Korean dish that I don't like," she said.

The Korean version of Yoshimoto's book "Daisy's Life" is currently on sale at local bookstores.


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