Japanese Novel Review: この嘘がばれないうちに Before this Lie gets out by Kawaguchi Toshikazu (川口俊和)

So this isn’t really the book that I set out to read, but I am thankful for the library for having this author! I knew about this author from her more well known book, Before the Coffee gets Cold(コーヒーが冷めないうちに). But Before this Lie get Out(この嘘がばれないうちに) seemed to have a very similar concept of a collection of short interconnected stories related to time travel.

Title: この嘘がばれないうちに
Author: 川口俊和
Publisher:サンマーク
Publication Date: 2017/3
Page count: 303 pages
IBSN: 9784763136077

USA Kinokuniya Link

Story Review

If you believe the rumor, there is a cafe where you can go back into time. People say that there’s one rule, but the rule is more of a warning then anything else. You can go back in time, but it won’t change the present. Once you visit the cafe, you will find out that the rumor was only somewhat correct. There are other ‘rules,’ but like the rule from the rumor, there are more rules of the universe and not exactly for the customer. While going to the past is possible, it might not be exactly like how the customer expects it to be.

Rule 1: You can only visit people in the past who have been customers at the cafe. While you can still go back in the past even if that isn’t the case, you won’t be able to meet the person that you are looking for.

Rule 2: As rumor stated, you can go back in time but no matter what you do, the present will remain unchanged.

Rule 3: There is only one seat that allows for someone to go to the past. And you can only use the seat once the previous customer gets up to go to the bathroom. It only happens once a day and there is no telling when this will happen, so it might be a long wait.

Rule 4: Once you are in the past, you cannot move from the seat. If you stand up, you will forcibly be returned to the present. The reality of this rule means that one will not be able to leave the cafe even if they are able to go to the past.

Rule 5: You will be served a cup of coffee. Once the coffee get cold, your time is over and you will return to the present. Only women from the Takei family will be able to serve this coffee that becomes your ticket to the past.

Bonus Rule:  If you do not drink all of the coffee before it gets cold, you will become a ghost that holds the seat for the next customer.

In this book, there are regulars, time travelers, and members of the Takei family that pop into and out of each story.  You will learn more about these characters through out each of the stories.

第1話「親友」Friends – A man travels 22 years in in the past to meet a dear friend – 94 pages

Is there even a point of going back in the past if you cannot change anything? Gotaro asked himself that questions while walking up and down the stairs outside the cafe mulling over whether he should even go into the cafe or not. The cool voice of the shop keep, Kazu Takei, guided him into the store like a quiet autumn breeze. There seemed to be quite a few people in the cafe that go there often judging by their familiarity with the staff and cafe. They invited Gotaro to sit with him while he waits. He was soon greeted by the same women he saw outside of the restaurant. He started to stutter, not knowing how to ask her for what he wanted. But without needing explanation, she simply asked him what time period he wanted to go back to.

The scene soon jumped to a chance meeting between Gotaro and an old college buddy, Shuichi, while he was at a low point in his life. The company that he worked for had become bankrupt and Gotaru became homeless. Shuichi, reading the situation, asked Gotaro to work at his small restaurant as he really needed an extra hand.  Gotaro was thankful to have someone on his side. Before his company fell apart, he was living a luxurious life style where money was no problem. The new friends that he made disappeared at the same rate as his savings did. He worked hard at the restaurant, but sadly Suuichi and his wife passed away after a car crash. From that day forward Gotaro raised the couple’s daughter as his own. Gotaru agreed to the terms of the rules as he would do anything to go back and talk to Shuichi… How esle would he be able to explain to the daughter who her real father was?

第2話「親子」Parent and Child – A son goes to the past to speak to his mother after not attending her funeral – 78 pages

Kiyoko is a regular at the cafe and knows the Takei family that runs the place very well.  Before her mother’s death, Kiyoku’s mother(Kiyone) would also stop by when ever she had some free time to talk to the Takei’s.  After Kiyone was hospitalized, Kiyoko and her son would often stop by to grab a coffee to go to bring it to her in the hospital. Since Kiyone’s death, Kiyoko herself had become a regular at the time travel cafe.

Kiyoko has a brother, Yukio, who moved to Kyoto to chase his dreams of becoming a artist.  There seemed to be lot of bad feeling between the two siblings as Yukio wasn’t informed when his mother was hospitalized.  Their mother begged Kiyoko to keep it a secret and Yukio seemed to have never forgave her for it.  He didn’t show up to the funeral and changed his job and phone number to avoid having any contact with his family.  But what did Yukio really feel about what happened? No one knew where he was until he took a surprise visit to the cafe so that he can go into the past to talk his mother one more time. Will he find the closure that he is looking for?

第3話「恋人」Lovers – A man travels to the future to meet the women he couldn’t marry – 54 pages

While it is rare for someone to travel back in time to a past they cannot change, its even more uncommon for someone to travel to the future.  The chances of meeting who you want to talk to are low.  But in this case, we find Katsuki, a man from the past sitting at the special table in the cafe waiting for his chance to meet a loved one.

At work, Asami was really popular due to her smiling face and positive attitude.  At first, Katsuki did not think much of her as she had a boyfriend.  But soon Asami faced some trauma after a breakup and miscarriage.  She felt like it was her fault that the baby died and had already decided to raise it on her own before the baby passed away.  She didn’t have anyone that she felt like she could talk to about her pain.  She tried to keep it inside, but some of the sadness showed on her face and lead to Katsuki starting a conversation with her to see if she was okay.  She didn’t have the confidence that her male coworker would understand what she was going through, but figured he would at least be able to throw a few sympathetic words her way.  He did not have a good way with words, but managed to make her feel a little bit better in the end and the two became so close that they started to plan to get married.  That was until Katsuki was diagnosed with a terminal disease that greatly shorted his life span.

He had plans with Fumiko, an old coworker who use to come to the cafe, to meet that day, but for some reason she wasn’t there.  She wasn’t the type to break promises that the cafe owners were unable to get into contact with her.  She was supposed to bring Asami with her. Will he be able to meet Asami in the future?  If he doesn’t, will he still find the closure that he is looking for?

第3話「夫婦」Married Couple – A old man travels to the past to give his wife a gift – 70 pages

Kiyoshi is a regular at the shop, so it wasn’t strange to anyone at the cafe when he stopped by after hours for a visit.  But instead of his normal coffee, he had a special request.  30 years ago at this exact cafe, he had a plan to meet his wife Kimiko for her birthday.  Like always, work got in the way and he had to cancel on his wife.  This was back before there were cellphones and Kimiko waited until the cafe closed for her husband.  After leaving the shop alone, there was an accident and Kimoko never made it back home. 

Last year he came to the shop asking for help to buy his wife a birthday gift as he had never gotten her anything before.  Kazu, one of the shop keepers, helped him to pick out a necklace and he was planning on giving it to his wife on her birthday.  Kiyoshi finally felt it was time to travel back to that day 30 years ago to meet his wife just before she passed away.

Special Features in this book:

Since this is a collection of interconnected stories, it can be hard to keep track of all of the characters and the role that they play in each story. This book(at least the edition that I read) has a full page before the story that has a map of each of the main characters. There are short descriptions for each character, which story they are the main character in, and line that show/explain the connections that they have to all of the other main characters in this story’s universe. 

My Reading Experience:

This month I did not make any goals for my reading and it really showed.  I was able to read one book a week.  But my efforts felt slow and aimless.  I am happy with the fact that I was able to stick with my overall minimal reading goal.  I am working on good measurable goals for next month so that I can work towards leveling up in the future.

I read this book at a slower place then normal, and I think that this is due to the fact that it wasn’t a novel. I have been reading quite a few collections of short stories lately… and I really just do not think they are for me.  I feel tired more easily when I read short stories.  I also feel a bit unfulfilled and have a low drive to finish each story to the finish.  It does help when the stories are intertwined, but I think I just have to accept that novels are a better fit for me.  I want to know more about each story and I want each story to go at a slower pace. I think I need to take a break from short stories and read a few longer pieces.  Collections of short stories seem to be very popular in Japan and make up a large chunk of the Japanese books available at my local library so I know I will go back to them at some point.

While the stories were easy for me to follow, I did actually have a hard time trying to summarize each story has had so many shared characters it was hard to decide what information was most important to share with those who wanted a short overview.  The character flow sheet in the beginning of the book was really helpful when I was writing this review.  It helped to keep me focused on translating only information that was connected with the main characters of each story.

This book really seemed to be a prefect example of Japanese general popular fiction.  Its a thought experiment.  What would happen to this character if they are put in an extremely strange situation.  What emotions would they go through?  How will this experience help to develop and mature them as a person? I don’t regret picking this novel up as I wanted to try reading one of Kawaguchi Toshikazu’s books.  But to be honest I found it kinda boring.  There were two many rules linked with the time travel. Going back in time when you would not be able to change anything just feels like its the same as reflecting?  Reflecting in ones own mind would be easier, cheaper, and less risky way of getting the closure that most of these characters seem to be seeking.  I wasn’t able to accept the idea that one could go back in time but have their actions not change to course of history.  Is it because their future selves had already gone back in time and the loop created the current reality of the situation?  Why did the ghost go to the bathroom once a day?  The book wasn’t able to capture my attention enough for me to ignore the type of small issues that any story would have. Overall, I was more interested in reading about the family that ran the cafe and found the time travel stories to be a distraction. I more felt myself trying to peak around the time travelers trying to get a better view of the Takei family from the past, future, and present.

After I finished writing this article, I did happen upon a review of the English edition of Before the Coffee gets Cold by Volatile Muse over at her blog, Volatile Rune, and found some inspiration in her words.

It is a rewrite of a work that was first performed as a play and in terms of its setting, it really feels like it. The action takes place in a basement café which contains no natural light, a few tables and a couple of seats at the bar. That’s it. Nothing else. Apart from the ghost.
– Volatile Muse

After reading these words I had a new appreciation of the minimalist setting these stories and reflecting on each story as if it were a play changed my view of this novel for the better.  I wish I read her review before reading Before this Lie get Out(この嘘がばれないうちに) as I think it would have been a more enjoyable experience for me.

Level Preface:

Just to give some background to my current level. I have been using Japanese for a long time now, but just decided somewhat recently to be more serious about gaining fluent literacy. In 2020 I finished reviewing over JLPT N2 materials and have started on N1. I am planning on taking N1 in 2021. I started reading novels in 2020 and have read over 30 to completion.

Vocabulary: N2 level student(intermediate)

Readers who have a beginning grasp of N2(intermediate) level vocabulary should not have many issues while reading this book.  I found the vocabulary choice in this novel to be quite basic which can make this book a great choice for many language leaners depending on what point they are at in their journey.

This book has very little furigana and I only remember it being used when characters were being introduced in the story. 

Overall, the features of the cafe such as the color scheme, clocks, and ceiling fan are mentioned fairly often. There were also passages that were repeated in the story as well. Besides the rules and phrases that are repeated in each story, I didn’t really notice this author reusing words often as a theme.    While this may help readers remember the basic meanings of new words, since the words are usually used in the exact same context it doesn’t help with getting at the deeper meaning and different usages each term has.  

In 「親友」Friends, the main characters are connected through rugby as they had both played it since grade school and were on the same team in university.  The book introduces a few katakana based terms related to rugby that seem to be loan words from English.  Readers do not have to understand rugby to understand any of the details in this story.  The author does explain what each of the new terms mean so having a background in rugby would not be an advantage.

Grammar: N3-N2 level student(intermediate)

Like a lot of general popular fiction, the sentences in this book are pretty straight forward.  I think it would be a good choice for a student who has a solid understanding of N3 concepts and have started studying N2 level grammar.

All of the characters in this book speak in standard Japanese dialect.  None of the characters seems to have any strange speaking habits and over all the dialog and descriptions are written in a simple, easy to understand format.

This book is physically larger then the average Japanese novels.  There are more spaces between characters and lines of text.  The individual characters themselves also are larger then average.  This will make this novel easier for some people to read. 

Cultural References

While reading this book, I did not notice any historical, musical, literary or pop culture references.  Readers do not have to have a strong understanding of Japanese culture before reading this book.  While there are specific topics that are brought up such as Rugby, the author explains each term that the average person would be unfamiliar with.

Who Should Read this Book?

Intermediate students who are interested in reading a collection of short stories that is popular in Japan.  Readers who like interconnected time travel stories.  Readers who value stories focused on the human experience vs action based plots.

Is this book right for you?

For those that would like to check out the first few pages to see if this book fits what you are looking for, you can do so at Book Walker using this link. Click on the cover image and that will take you to a sneak peak into this novel. 

Related Media

The ‘thought experiment’ concept plot line in this novel really reminded me of another popular Japanese novel that I have read recently, If Cats Disappeared from the World(世界から猫消えたなら).  In this story, a man dying of cancer is given the chance to extend his life day by day if he is willing to erase something important to him from the world.  While there are tons of other example of this story line style, this is one of my most recent reads and I will have a review up soon.  I enjoyed this novel more then Before this Lie get Out(この嘘がばれないうちに) as I found it to be a bit more thought provoking.

If you read and love Before this Lie get Out(この嘘がばれないうちに), the author has another novel that showcases more characters going thought similar experiences in the time travel cafe. Before the Coffee gets Cold(コーヒーが冷めないうちに) is Kawaguchi Toshikazu’s most famous book and I look forward to reading it in the future. There is also a movie based off of this novel.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I think it is worth checking out if you are interested in the story line.

 

Author: Kuri

I love reading Japanese novels and have seen that many people want to read them but don't know where to start. I have decided to share my experiences to help people reach their literacy goals.

One thought on “Japanese Novel Review: この嘘がばれないうちに Before this Lie gets out by Kawaguchi Toshikazu (川口俊和)”

  1. Thank you for the mention Kuri. I got a fresh insight from reading your review of Before the coffee… too. I hadn’t thought of it as being connected short stories rather than a novel but I think you’re right.

    Liked by 1 person

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