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Japanese Lit Challenge #14 Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold: A Novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

My Interest

Thanks to Deb Nance at Readerbuzz who introduced me to this book. I tucked this one away for this year’s Japanaese Lit Challenge.

The Story

Four patrons decide to test the urban legend that the backstreet, basement,  Cafe Funiculi Funicula offers time travel–but with a whole bunch of rules! Each person must obey the rules or …. [no spoilers]. They cannot change things (think Marty McFly starting to disappear). And, your time in the past must end before the coffee gets cold or [Sorry! No spoilers].

My Thoughts

Time travel is one of those things that I can occasionally enjoy. This story was perfect for my current mood. It reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen–just a touch of magic. I liked the real world way the patrons responded to or learned from their experiences. There is a sweet poignancy to the story that never gets too precious of cloying–it is realistic. This is a quick, light read but well worth it.

My Verdict

4.0

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: A Novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchim

I listened to the audio version.

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Japanese Lit Challenge # 14 Review: Miss Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

My Interest

I have been succeeding in reading only short books during COVID. This novella fit the page limit, and fit the Japanese Literature Challenge, and I loved the cool cover, AND I loved the sound of the story!

The Story

Coming of age is never easy. It’s even harder when you have a single Mom who is “Westernizing” your grandmother’s house while Grandma (Mom’s mother-in-law) is slowly dying in her bed. Our unnamed narrator is a boy in the 4th–6th grades. He falls hard for the lady who packages and sells the ready-made sandwiches at his local supermarket. She is a controversial figure. Ice-blue eye shadow is her trademark. The girls (who frighten him) whose parents put dancing class over cram school say they’d rather die than look like her. But oh the feelings are so real! And then there is this: “Grandma’s who’s asleep and Grandma who’s going to die Are these the same Grandma?“A boy needs his Grandma–even if she’s barely “there,” especially if his Mom always has her head in her phone.

“So I decide to pretend the three [dancing class] girls don’t exist, and to pay attention to the tiny leaves in front of me, and take my brush and dab them with bluish-green paint. This moment, this feeling. When you first look at it, the surface of the drawing paper looks totally flat, but if you look carefully there are bumps and pits in the surface. Like the bumpy, rocky surface of a mountain. Colored rain pours down on it, and before you realize it, the surface has completely changed” (p. 45).

Our boy escapes from his less-than-perfect home life and his Ice Sandwich lady dreams into his art> First his school project of a landscape and then his labor of love: drawing Miss Ice Sandwich until the finished product is as perfect as he can make it.

My Thoughts

This is such a sweet story! Finally, a Japanese novel I’m positive I understood. Not since Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford have I bee so moved by a coming-of-age story. This was just about perfect.

My Verdict

For the second time in a year, I am awarding:

4.5 Stars

Miss Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami. Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

Here is a link to all the information on the Japanese Literature Challenge #14

My earlier book review for Japanese Literature Challenge #14

after the quake by Haruki Murakami

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Japanese Lit Challenge # 14 Review: after the quake: stories by Haruki Murakami

Note: The author insisted the title of this book be in lower case letters!

My experience reading this author’s work has not been very satisfying. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the only one I’ve finished. It was interesting enough and I gave it a good review, but I haven’t given it a thought since finishing it several years ago. Although it would be heresy according to his fans, I’m again left with words and phrases like, “Is that all?” “Really?” or “Weird,” and “Over-rated.” Mostly, I’m left feeling that I’m too stupid to “get it.” Like with math.

I started listening to this short story collection when I had nothing else on audio. It met two goals–one of my personal reading goals for 2021 to read more short stories and it worked for the Japanese Lit Challenge for which I still had nothing in at the library. Plus, it was only about 4 hours. Predictably,  an e-audio book I was waiting on hit my account the next day. I determined to finish this collection though. Maybe I would finally understand what makes this author so revered?

As the title indicates, the stories all take place after the horrible 1995 earthquake in Kobe. 6 stories tell of of quirky, odd, even somewhat perverted people. I skipped one story after incest seemed to be coming at me. People afraid of refrigerators or obsessed with bonfires, giant frogs,

The stories in this collection are:

“UFO in Kushiro”-– Man’s wife leaves him. Man goes on trip. Man meets women. Woman tells dirty story involving a bell and  bear.

“Landscape with Flatiron” The one with the refrigerator-fearing man and the bonfire freak. They mention literature.

“All God’s Children Can Dance”–skipped it do to looming incest.

 “Thailand” In which a perfectly normal doctor arrives for a medical conference in Thailand, meets her jazz-enthusiast driver and eventually the story gets around to another round of bears and sex.

 “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” Too weird for words.

“Honey Pie” More bears. UGH

I’m thinking I’ll add Haruki Murakami to my “don’t bother again” list with Dickens and a few other authors. Life is to short….

My Verdict

3.0

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Japanese Literature Challenge 14

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The host, hashtag, and dates:

From the host blog, Dolce Bellezza:

As in years past, it will run from January through March. We will read books in translation (unless you are able to read Japanese), and review them on our blogs. You may also choose to leave thoughts on social media with #JapaneseLitChallenge14. I have now set up a review site for you to leave links, as before.

My Interest

I enjoyed this so much in January 2020, that I’ve signed up again! I may not be able to read more than one book due to my graduate classes starting up again on the 11th, but I’ll at least do that. I’m not doing as many challenges as in 2020, but this one I still want to do.

The One I Want To Finish

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I was loving this, after several failed attempts, but ran out of time and decided to hold it over for this year. The Makioka Sisters by Jun’Ichiro Tanizaki and translated by Edward G. Seidensticker.

Other Possible Books

Will you be participating in this, or any other, reading challenges this year? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.