Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, part 3

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Before The Coffee Gets Cold,
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi,
translated by Geoffrey Trousselot
Picador
9/19/2019
コーヒーが冷めないうちに
was first published in 2015
Literary fiction/fantasy
Goodreads

Read-along with
Julie Anna at Julie Anna’s Books
part 3

📚 Come this way to read our answers to her pre-read questions

📚 Part 1 is here

📚 Part 2 is here

📚 Here are my questions about Part 3, and Our answers
SPOILERS INCLUDED

1. I enjoyed the change of structure, with this time starting in the past. Though actually, we have had the introduction to this story at the beginning of part 2. So what did you think about this structural aspect?
Julie Anna
I enjoyed the changeup, and I thought it was at the right time in the book. It took me off-guard a little bit and had me thinking about why the scene started at this point in time. In particular, it made me wonder even more about the past that the cafe-goers are leaving behind. We usually see things from the perspective of the time traveler, but now we get to see more of the emotion (and the confusion in particular) for what it’s like for those on the other side. It definitely made the story feel a lot more fleshed out for me.

Emma
Yes, it definitely made it richer, and broke the possibility of tediousness with the repetition of the same setting. It was also neat that originally, we didn’t know who she was and whom she was waiting for.

2. Like in part 2, it’s also about a letter. What’s your reaction that we have already met that pattern in part 2?

J.A.
I liked that, while they both involved a letter, they were executed in different ways. I think the combination of the way the backstory was revealed over time as well as the change in structure made these stories feel very unique despite the similarities. Given the short timeframe for time travel, the letters do make the communication between the characters a little more convenient. That being said, I’m glad that there were other elements that made this story stand out. I’m also curious to see what form of communication will be used in part 4 and if they’ll have enough time to communicate without passing along something like a letter.

E.
Right, it’s remarkable to have two stories with letters, and yet very different in content and shape. I like that the author tried something very different actually for each story.
For me, these two stories highlight the fact that we should never suppose, imagine, or interpret what others are thinking or even saying, especially in an intimate relationship as a couple. Hence the importance of dialoguing daily to clarify, and make sure we understand what the other means. I believe it would prevent many divorces.
I have had several instances, not in my couple, but with people I didn’t know well, and they say, Oh I see what you mean. And they are wrong, this is not what I was thinking. I used to let it go, but now, I try to take the time to say, no, actually, here is what I meant.

3. What did you think about Kumi’s letter?

J.A.
Like Fusagi’s letter, I found it very heartbreaking! But the main difference here is the way that Kohtake couldn’t have done anything to change Fusagi’s fate. Here, even though Hirai couldn’t have known turning her sister away would lead to her death, she knows that letting her in could have stopped this. And her and her family will always know that she could have done something different in order to save her, even if it wasn’t directly her fault. To make matters worse, knowing what Kumi’s dreams were from this medium and what she was trying to do this whole time only adds to what will likely be lifelong guilt for her.

E.
Funny, I didn’t perceive the guilt at the end. I see Hirai determined to fulfill her promise, and as she does so, experiencing her sister’s presence at her side, in a very special way.

4. So far, what do you think about the impact of the time travel on the main characters?

J.A.
After reading this part, I honestly think that the impacts of time travel isn’t all that positive. I think that there are some things that are best to be left unknown for sanity’s sake. The first part is an example of closure that I think was ultimately good. In the second part, I think it could go either way. But in the third part, I feel that Hirai may have been better off not traveling. I don’t necessarily always agree with the idea of ‘ignorance of bliss,’ but I can’t imagine the immense guilt that Hirai feels. Perhaps knowing Kumi’s wishes can help her rebuild her relationship with her family, but in the short-term it feels like it did more harm than good.

E.
But if she hadn’t traveled, she would have known none of that and of her sister’s deep wish. Now, she can fulfill her sister’s ultimate desire, and also keep the restaurant in the family. In their life together, they were not able to communicate and reveal their deep desire, Hirai needed that trip back to finally know better her sister.
As we know, these time travel experiences do not change the present situations, but they actually change the heart of the travelers. I think now, they will all live their daily life with a much deeper awareness of people around them, they won’t take anything or anyone for granted, and they will try to communicate with others at a much deeper level.

5. Kohtake doesn’t like iced coffee. What about you?

J.A.
If I had to drink coffee, I’d probably pick iced over hot. But either way, immense amounts of caffeine sadly don’t agree with me! It’s quite the contradiction as well because I love the smell of coffee more than most things.

E.
I actually understand: when I was a teen, I used to hate coffee, but so loved the smell that I would often prepare it myself for my Mom and sister, who would drink a lot of it.
I have now learned to love coffee, but I also have health issues, so I usually drink some only as a treat on Saturday mornings.
I don’t really enjoy iced coffee. Maybe because it doesn’t smell as strong as hot coffee? Or simply because I’m French: we typically don’t often add ice in our drinks.

6. Do you know Sendai? I decided to check cultural aspects. I found this great video on what to see and do in one day in Sendai. And here is a cool sample of the gorgeous sasakazari for Tanabata Festival.

J.A.
Thank you for sharing these! I didn’t know about Sendai. I especially loved seeing the Mausoleum and Shrine; the variety of trees there is absolutely beautiful. It seems like they’re fairly close to the city as well according to the map, and so many great observation points to go to! I was aware of the Tanabata Festival, but I didn’t know about much about it other than it taking place over the summer and the decorating involved for the festival. I also didn’t know that different parts of Japan have their own traditions that take place during the festival.

And I have one more question as well:

Earlier in the book we contemplated what the past they traveled to was. In this part, we got to see the perspective of characters like Kumi react when the time traveler present went back to the future. I previously speculated that the characters are traveling to a parallel universe, and I wanted to reflect on this again. What if it could also be a simulation? I tend to think it’s a parallel universe still. Does your speculation still stand as well?

E.
I am always amazed at the place of nature in Japan, even in very large cities.
And I love how they use so many vivid colors for everything.

As for your additional question, I’m actually not sure we are in parallel universes here. Was there any element in the narrative that seemed to confirm that idea? I didn’t pick it up. Things don’t seem logical, but I think the author is not trying to wrap up things in a logical way, but let it happen in a whimsical way. There’s certainly a lot of whimsy in many Japanese novels I have read!

Thanks Julie Anna, looking forward to answering your questions for the last part of the book.

And now to part 4

9 thoughts on “Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, part 3

  1. I’m really enjoying the different perspectives in each of our answers in these questions! It makes me wish I could buddy read everything because I just enjoy seeing all of our ideas and contemplations at the end of each part.

    Like

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