Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #98: What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga

Domestic life is inherently undramatic, the way that happy families are all alike (and all, by implication, all boring). So to tell stories about domestic life, the writer either has to bring drama into that life from outside or start from a place of unhappiness -- divorce, infidelity, grinding poverty, war, famine, alien invasion, biker gangs, you name it. Domesticity is what stories usually try to move toward -- it's no coincidence that a romance ends with the Happy Ever After, the turn into domesticity.

But there are works that embrace that domesticity and try to work within those confines: to show a happy relationship and still not bore the reader. Maybe those works don't have to bring in some outside interest to do that -- the universe is infinite, so I won't claim anything is impossible to achieve -- but it's definitely advisable. And some of those sources for drama are more domestic than others -- closer to the everyday life of its characters, or already inherently part of that life.

Fumi Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Vol. 1 is thus not primarily the story of a happy couple in their early forties  -- Shiro Kakei, a lawyer happy not to achieve too much or work too hard, and his live-in boyfriend Kenji Yabuki, a hairdresser. Their happiness would be too slender a thing to rest a manga on. But Shiro is a talented amateur cook, energized both by saving money and by cooking interesting, varied meals.

So What Did You Eat Yesterday? is a culinary story -- the focus of the stories is on the dishes that Shiro cooks, the ingredients that he finds for them, and how much he and Kenji enjoy those meals. Their relationship makes its way in, though the points of friction are inevitably more prominent -- for example, Kenji is fully out and wants to be able to talk about his boyfriend, while Shiro is closeted at work and an intensely private person to begin with. Their gayness is important, and Japanese society has expectations and standard roles for gay men that don't exactly line up with the American, but it's not about their relationship, or the fact that they're gay. It's about the food -- how to prepare it (including instructions I'm pretty sure a decent cook could follow) and why to mix those particular flavors.

The food might be even more exotic to American readers than the life of a happily coupled gay duo is -- it certainly is to this suburban New Jersey boy -- but that just makes it more intriguing and different. (I don't even know what konjac is, for example.) And for readers that either just want a quietly domestic story about a mostly happy couple and their lives, with lots of telling details and amusing dialogue, or adventurous cooks with a deep interest in Japanese food, What Did You Eat Yesterday? will be a savory delight.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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