October 2020 Round Up

It’s the end of another month and despite the chaos of moving house and starting a new job, I’ve still managed to squeeze some reading in so please enjoy and happy Halloween!

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe

  • Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi
  • Publisher: Picador, 2020
  • Summary: Following on from Kawaguchi’s debut novel, this delightful sequel returns the reader to a little cafe in Tokyo that can transport customers back in time and explores how we’d go to see the ones we love.
  • Rating: 4/5

The Other Mother (Audiobook)

  • Author: Jen Brister
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Summary: Stand-up comedian, Jen Brister, recounts the trials and tribulations of raising twin boys as a same-sex couple, and being the ‘other’ mother.
  • Rating: 3/5

After the Silence

  • Author: Louise O’Neill
  • Publisher: Riverrun, Quercus, 2020
  • Summary: The infamous murder of the Crowley Girl has been talked about on Inisrun for the past years, but now a pair of Australians have arrived to make a documentary on the case and old wounds start to reopen.
  • Rating: 5/5

The Silent Patient

  • Author: Alex Michaelides
  • Publisher: Orion, 2019
  • Summary: Alicia was living what seemed to be a perfect life until the day she shot her husband 6 years ago and no one knows why. And she hasn’t spoken a word since.
  • Rating: 3/5

Before the Coffee gets Cold

Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee gets Cold is a Japanese bestseller about a small cafe in Tokyo which offers the customers the chance to travel back in time. In this book we meet four customers, all of whom have reason to time travel, one to speak to a lover who left, one to read a letter written by her husband with Alzheimer’s, one to see her recently deceased sister and one to meet the daughter she never got to know.

This is a charming exploration of missed opportunities that begs the question; who would you travel through time to see? This novel is deeply moving, however my favourite part of reading it was finding out about the various regular characters found in the cafe. Learning about the intriguing stories of the cafe staff is a is gradually told at a pace that always keeps you on edge to find out more.

When it comes to translated fiction I generally don’t comment on the language because I am not reading the book as it was written. Therefore, although I found some of the language slightly repetitive at times, I would credit the translation as being intelligently written.

I will admit that I found there to be slightly more exposition than necessary in the first chapter which meant that it took getting through this chapter before I started to really enjoy the book. However, I also think that may be a tricky pitfall to avoid with a book fo this nature as there are various rules for the time travel that must be explained in order for the rest of the book to be as good as it was.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this unusual concept found in a charming piece of translated fiction. I would definitely recommend this quick read.

Reading Rush 2020

The End

So this year’s reading rush is over and read a total of 4 books in the space of a week, which is definitely more than I expected (even if it wasn’t quite a full 7). Below is a summary of what I read and what I thought of it, keep an eye out over the next couple of weeks for more thorough reviews of the books.

Exciting Times

  • Author: Naoise Dolan
  • Publisher: 2020, Weidenfeld and Nicolson
  • Summary: Ava is a poorly paid Irish TEFL teacher in Hong Kong when she meets Julian. Julian is a wealthy English banker who likes to spend money on her and lets her stay in his guest room. Then Julian goes back to London and Ava meets Edith who actually listens to her and openly cares. But what will happen when Julian announces he’ll be returning to Hong Kong?
  • Rating: 3/5

Before the Coffee gets Cold

  • Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi
  • Publisher: December 2015, Pan Macmillan
  • Summary: There’s a small cafe in Tokyo that offers its customers the chance to travel back in time, but they must finish finish the coffee before it gets cold.
  • Rating: 4/5

Difficult Women

  • Author: Roxane Gay
  • Publisher: 2017, Corsair
  • Summary: A collection of short stories exploring the nianced and varied experiences of women.
  • Rating: 5/5

The Vanishing Half

  • Author: Brit Bennet
  • Publisher: 2020, Dialogue Books
  • Summary: Once inseparable twin sisters grow up and choose to live in two very different worlds; one black, one white.
  • Rating 4/5

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Cho Nam-Joo

I started and finished this book in a day, partly because I’m on lockdown with a lot of free time, but mostly because I couldn’t put it down. After being recommended this by my girlfriend, I was thrilled that I had the chance to read it.

The book follows the life of Kim Jiyoung from early childhood up until her early thirties, exploring what it is to be a woman in Korean society. The novel beautifully conveys how wearing daily life can be for women in South Korea through depicting the how relentlessly Jiyoung is put down and held back simply for being a woman. This relentless quality was, I believe, conveyed so effectively because the novel itself was only short. Where I felt the effect of this daily sexism and misogyny, I at no point felt bogged down by it, which I think could have happened had it been a longer book.

I loved the insight into how children were raised in South Korea during the 80’s and 90’s, how boys were, and to a large extent still are, favoured to the point of women aborting babies once they find out they were having a girl. This was also emphasised by the inclusion of various statistics regarding gender equality in South Korea.

I also particularly enjoyed the characterisation of Kim Jiyoung’s mother and how she walked the line of understanding what she had given up because she was a woman, and trying to avoid that happening to her daughters, and still playing favourites with her son. She frequently stands up for her daughters, ensuring they don’t have to give up the things she did and making sure they have more, but then still sacrifices for her son in small daily acts, such as giving up food for him, and never asks as much of him.

This brings me to one of the other aspects of the book which I loved, which was the role Jiyoung’s brother, the boy and youngest child of the family, plays, or rather lack of role he plays. The invisibility of him as a character really speaks to the aim of novel to highlight the lives of women in South Korean, where so often men are central to narratives. The son is barely mentioned by name, is only central to a scene once and is never the focal point of any aspect of story, instead being the background character who is normally considered first within the family but not to be considered in this book.

Finally, I have to mention the ending to this book, but will try to do so without giving too many spoilers. The final chapter of the book is from the perspective of the male medical professional treating Jiyoung and it perfectly sums up the issue men have when thinking about the difficulties women face. Even the men who take the time to understand how often women are held back in society, they almost always fall at the last hurdle, as is perfectly summed up in the final two sentences of the book.