Our Goodbyes: the Final Recommendation List from the 2021/2022 Literature Editors

To continue a trend that last year’s editors started, this year’s Literature Editors, Catarina Vicente and Shivika Singh, wanted to write a final article on our recommendations.

Catarina Vicente on The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Three years of university, three years of books.

I always find endings sad, and finishing uni is no different, but I can confidently say that my time at Quench was one of the best parts. Coming up with pitches, writing articles, editing contributions – and most of all, discovering new books. If I had to pick my favourite read from my years at university, though, I’d definitely go with The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

BookTok raved about it a while back, and I took the cue – a risky move sometimes, as it has also led to some of the worst reads of my life. But also, some of my favourite, such as this one!

The novel follows a pair of twins, Desiree and Stella, who are black but pale enough to pass off as white. Living in a small town with a predominantly black population that is obsessed with having lighter skin, the girls are well-known – and yet yearn to run away. The story truly picks up pace when the twins act on this wish, running away and working odd jobs, until Stella disappears, leaving her twin to pick up the pieces.

Told through different narrators involved in each of the twin’s lives- their family members, lovers, and later on, children – we learn more about each twin’s fate, as one chose to embrace her black features, while the other capitalizes on her Caucasian characteristics to pass as white.

I tend to go towards fantasy, but The Vanishing Half totally changed my mind. All POVs were engaging, the question at the centre-point of the plot a slow winding but intense impetus. With a quiet but powerful tone, Brit Bennett weaves themes of race and gender, family and connection, but most of all, identity, in a truly captivating narrative.

So, if you’re looking for something new, take my recommendation of The Vanishing Half – you won’t be disappointed.

Shivika Singh on Before the coffee gets cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the coffee gets cold is a debut novel written by Japanese playwright Toshikazu Kawaguchi and translated into English by Geoffrey Trousselot. I picked up this book without much knowledge of its genre, theme, or plot, solely because the thought of this story being based in a Japanese café brought a sense of warmth and comfort to me. This book surprised me with how efficiently it brought the elements of magical realisms to a story which is deep and moving.

The book is set in a back alley in Tokyo, where there is a café that allows chosen individuals to sit in one magical seat, and you can travel back in time and talk to a loved one. However, there is a twist: you cannot change the future and can only stay in the past as long as your coffee is warm. Before the coffee gets cold comprises of four different stories of individuals who make use of the café’s offer to travel back into the past 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. This book beautifully humanises the tale of each character and the writing could move one to tears at places.

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s whimsical yet moving story explores the age-old question: what would you do if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you like to meet for one last time? This book encourages readers to value the time they have with their loved ones and live life without regrets. Overall, this book is sweet, warm and moving.

The editors thank all contributors and their team at Quench this year!