Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Title: Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Translator: Geoffrey Trousselot
RRP: $18.99AUD (correct at time of writing)
Publication Date: 24th September 2019

Synopsis: "In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a cafe which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unqiue experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the cafe'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.

But the journey to the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the cafe, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold..."

My thoughts: I realised last month when taking part in Women In Translation Month that it had been some time since I had read any Japanese literature, and that that was a darn shame, as, in general, I adore it. So when I saw that this one was going to be published, I requested it quick-smart.

The book is made up of four small stories, but each intertwines with the other. Characters recur, and you slowly learn more and more about them, and about the strange cafe that they frequent. The characters felt so quirky, but so real, to me, and I loved the addition of time travel into the plot - and all the interesting rules that go along with it. The time travel aspect of the cafe doesn't feel like it's amazing or groundbreaking for those that work there and frequently visit, just that it's... a random thing that happens to occur there, and they have to know the basics of it to help those who want to utilise it. Like a strange VR experience that is squashed into the corner, that hardly anyone pays attention to and instead just drink coffee and enjoy the cool, calm atmosphere.

I found this book to be surprisingly impactful - I cried a little bit in two of the stories, particularly the second story, and I found myself really thinking about the characters and what they were going through, and why they wanted to go back in time - even when I wasn't reading. This book is quiet, considered, and in that gentle way of not even realising what it's doing, it weaves its way under your defenses and leaves your heart just a little bit sore. And I kind of relished that. This is so much of what I love about Japanese literature, and I think I may have to reread it again soon, as I'm sure I've missed something.

{I received a review copy of this book from Pan Macmillan in exchange for and honest review. All thoughts are my own. Thank you!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'If I return to the past, I might be able to set things right. I might be able to have a conversation with Goro once more. She replayed this fanciful wish over and over inside her mind. She became obsessed and lost any ability to make a level-headed judgement.'

You would like this book if: you enjoy quiet, gentle, and yet still emotional Japanese literature; you like snapshots of different lives, all tied together with a single theme - say, a coffee shop?

Tea to drink while reading this book: I think we can all agree that only coffee will do for this one. And if you can't drink coffee (like myself) perhaps either have a replacement like dandelion, or have someone nearby drink some coffee for you?

Rating:  8.5/10

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