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

Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, part 1

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 1

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

📚 Here are my questions about the first part, and Our answers
SPOILERS INCLUDED

1. Welcome to Words And Peace, Julie Anna, I’m so thrilled we are reading Before the Coffee Gets Cold together. For my readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, about your blog, and your readings? 

Julie Anna
Hello! My name is Julie Anna, and my blog is called Julie Anna’s Books. It originally started as a lifestyle blog known as Sincerely Julie Anna, but as I fell back into reading regularly after graduating college I converted it to a book blog! I like to read a bit of everything, but my most read genres at the moment are literary fiction and SFF.
2. Last time, we talked about our expectation of what the café would look like. What was your reaction when you discovered it?
J.A.
I really liked finding that it was a hidden cafe that was so quiet and quaint! I also liked learning about the age of the cafe; it feels like there’s so much history and intrigue to how it gained its power. I don’t think it would be the same if it were a large, heavily frequented cafe.
Emma
I also like the idea that it’s so hidden that very few people know about the place, and that it only holds a few tables and seats. So it’s super quiet, and that’s a quality I really enjoy. However, I actually didn’t find it quaint, ad was disappointed to realize it was a windowless basement place. I’m not sure I would often like to go to that sort of place.

3. One of the rules is that you can go back, but actually it won’t change anything to the present. I could stop and ponder this for a long time. How is that even possible? And along the same line, I wonder, then when you are reliving in the past, would you even be aware that you are back in the past?

J.A.
I was wondering about this myself! The only thing I can think of is that we’re entering a parallel universe, so the future consequences of their actions only impact that universe and not the other. It seems like Fumiko was aware as she was conscious of the fact that she needed to finish the coffee, but in the moment I’m sure it doesn’t feel like you’re in the past. Unless you’re in a dreamlike state where things are changing all around you, I’m sure it must feel so real!

E.
I like your explanation of parallel universes, and I just read a French novel featuring this and quantic physics! Sounds like it would be the only way to work.
You are right, the characters actually seem to be aware they are in the past. And they are even aware of the future, as they remember they have to drink their coffee before it gets cold. So it’s not very logical, but why would our normal logic work in that type of book, lol?

4. The ghost: how do you think she ended up in her current fate? Will she ever be able to leave the café? Did she feel like a real ghost in the story? Or more like an actress actually part of the staff?
J.A.
I think she’s real because of what she was able to do to Fumiko. Perhaps her spirit will be able to depart the cafe when another takes her place? Or maybe the spirits remain but are not visible in the way that this ghost was. I’m curious to see if we learn more about the role of the ghost or if that’s one of the unexplained mysteries of the cafe.
E.
To be honest, I’m a bit dubious about this “ghost”. It/she seems to me too conveniently to leave her seat and stay long enough in the bathroom for the customers (at least in the first two parts) to go back to the past and come back.
Plus her rage when the customer tries to push her away from her scene, and then her way of going back impassibly to read afterwards, all this looks very theatrical.
AND she drinks coffee and goes to the bathroom, lol.
At this point, it feels to me she’s in cahoots with the waitresses, and she’s actually part of the staff. To fulfill the special mission of this cafe, to help customers revisit their lives and raise their awareness about their deep identity, their significant relationships, and the ultimate meaning of their lives.
This feeling was reinforced by her reaction: she “gave a small nod of acknowledgement” to Kazu right after Fumiko came back from the past. And when Fumiko leaves the cafe:
“The woman in the dress gave a slight smile as she quietly closed the book, a novel titled The Lovers.
I have read somewhere that this novel first came out as a play. Not sure exactly why, but it seems to me that would work well in a play, with the revelation of who the ghost is at the end.
Oh, by the way, what do you make of that?? She is reading a book with that title, which is the title of that part of our book? Is this a story within a story??
5. Which of the rules do you think are fair? Which rule did you find the most maddening? 
J.A.

I thought that most of the rules were fair, but I do wish these abilities could be taken outside of the cafe. I see how this makes sense in context, but it does limit the possibilities of time travel and the reasons for traveling. I have a feeling that a lot of the patrons that travel do so when they want to understand a person more without risk of saying the wrong thing. But other than that, I think that this rule makes things very limiting.

E.
Same here. The more limiting for me is actually the one related to the title! Sometimes, you need a lot more time than a few minutes to have a deep conversation with someone, especially if there has been some type of misunderstanding or hurt.
Plus, the ghost has the right to have coffee refills, so why not the patrons during their time travel?
6. Being aware of these rules, would you still want to time travel to the past? Why, if it actually doesn’t change anything?
J.A.
I still think it would be interesting to do for the purpose of taking risks. If I’m unsure how to navigate something, it could be an interesting way to test run something. I’m also worried about the possibility of changing the wrong thing, so in a sense, this feels like a sandbox environment. The rationale for trying it is definitely limited now, but I feel that there still are some benefits.
E.
Hmm, not sure I understand. If it doesn’t have any impact on the present, how can you evaluate it as a test run?
Personally, maybe I would try that travel back in the past if my words hurt somebody, and I could either say something different, or apologize and make sure I don’t hurt the people. But, if it doesn’t change the present, maybe in the present these persons would still feel hurt by my words, so I’m not sure…
7. Do you think Fumiko was satisfied with the knowledge gained as a result of her time travel? What do you think is the ultimate goal of this café?
J.A.
Partially, yes! I think it at least gave her a little closure on her situation since she wasn’t really able to get that the first time around. However, I feel like she also probably wanted more out of it. To be honest, I found her impatience and attitude a little bit frustrating, and I feel like that contributed to her dissatisfaction with the rules and not being able to change the past. I feel like it helped her understand more of what happened (and I noticed a change in her character at the end from this), but I also think that her feelings towards the relationship itself might be unchanged in some ways.
E.
What she accomplished doesn’t seem much to me, but she does seem happy. As she leaves the cafe, she expresses gratitude to the waitress, she has a sign of reverence to the place itself, and the ways she walks, she seems to have lost her heaviness of heart.As I said above, I think the ultimate goal of this cafe is to help customers revisit their lives and raise their awareness about their deep identity, their significant relationships, and the real meaning of their lives. So ultimately, it’s to help them find happiness in their present circumstances, whatever these are.
8. I found there were a lot of characters in this first part. Do you think we have actually met all the characters of the four parts of the book?
J.A.
I was wondering this! I think it would be cool if we met them all already, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if we haven’t yet. I think it would be interesting if the next parts covered the patrons that were already there (including the ghost), or even the cafe’s owners and their stories. I liked how Fumiko came across the cafe, but I think it would be interesting if the next parts covered those that are already familiar with how the cafe works.
E.
Ah, I didn’t think about the staff themselves!
I got that feeling that we see in the first pages all the characters we are going to encounter throughout the book, because it felt like a nice theatrical setting – and again, I keep running into the fact that it was originally a play.
9. Are you expecting the four stories to be connected in more ways than just each character trying to revisit the past?
J.A.
This isn’t my expectation, but I think it would be really nice if it did! I think this ties back to number 8 where if we met all of the characters already, then they might connect in that way. I think that would also contribute to the development of the cafe itself and its overall story and intrigue. It does seem like all of the cafe patrons mostly keep to themselves, but if they were all featured in this story, they may not connect to each other, but I think it would add so much to the cafe’s story itself.
E.
Well, if as you suggested in 8. the staff themselves is going to be involved in the time travel, maybe there’s a deeper connection between all indeed?
If not, maybe we’ll have to come up and add our 5th part!!
Thanks so much Julie Anna for answering my questions to this first part.
Looking forward to yours for part 2!

And Part 2 Q&A is available here, on Julie Anna’s blog.

Part 3 is here

And here part 4

Before The Coffee Gets Cold: read-along, pre-read discussion

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, pre-read discussion

For several years, I have been participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge organized by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza. This year, I was planning on reading only nine Japanese classics, and then I won Before The Coffee Gets Cold at her giveaway!
I forgot how and where, but I saw that Julie Anna at Julie Anna’s Books wanted to read it as well. So I offered her to do a read-along.

We are starting our reading today, feel free to join us. 
Before our first report, Julie Anna had the great idea to ask pre-read questions:

1. If you could visit this cafe and have the opportunity to time travel, what would you do?

2. Would you want to change anything?

3. What are your expectations going into this book?

4. What have you heard about this book so far?

5. Do you often read books with fantastical / magical elements?

6. How do you think the magical elements of this book will be executed?

7. From the synopsis:
In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.

Whose character’s story are you most interested in learning about?

Please go visit Julie Anna’s post to see both our answers

Come this way to see our Q&A for part 1

And Part 2 Q&A is available here, on Julie Anna’s blog.

Part 3 is here

and here part 4