Review: Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Yawaguchi

Review: Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu YawaguchiBefore the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Geoffrey Trousselot

Published by Picador on September 19th 2019
Pages: 213
Format: paperback

What would you change if you could go back in time?

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique 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 café’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 into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?

My interest in Japan has never been a secret. So last year my sister in law and mother in law surprised me with a Japanese book they gave me for Sinterklaas. Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Yawaguchi is a cute contemporary time travel novel. Not too long, but just long enough. It shares four stories of people who’re regulars in the cafe and have problems. The owner gives them a chance to fix it.

It is not the first Japanese book I’ve read, nor will it be the last (I have a few lined up to read), but this one will stick with me for a long time. I read it on December 31st as I was hiding out at my in-laws place because I don’t do well with fireworks and it was the perfect comfort read in such a stressful time. The four stories are pretty short but still interconnected. All of them written from a different point of view and a different voice. But all of them had the same sense of comfort.

I had just gotten back from Tokyo a month before that and I was already missing it. There were tiny details I recognised from other stores I’ve been to, or architecture I’ve seen. I was already familiar with the Japanese culture, although the cafe culture is still new to me. There are tiny things in this book you might not pick up if you’re not too familiar with the culture and that’s okay. They might just be easter eggs for Japan lovers like me, or Japanese people.

The story itself is cute and made me think. Would I change something? Could I change something? The story relies heavily on the dialogue and interaction between the characters. It’s so subtle since you can’t change the other person’s character so you have to change their minds. Japanese people are known to avoid direct confrontations so even here, the things they say can be too subtle for a Western audience and might not be experienced as realistic.

All in all, I really enjoyed Before The Coffee Gets Cold and I might try to find a copy of the film to watch later. It’s a book I’ll probably re-read again in a few years. Therefore, I give the book four stars. I highly recommend this if you’re open to trying something new. It’s not a typically Japanese story but with typical Japanese elements in it.

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