Thursday, 10 October 2019

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is a short-ish novel of time travel, told in four parts. Originally published in Japanese, it was recently translated into English. I picked it up because the time travel aspect interested me.

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 . . .

This is one novel but it's divided into four parts, each focussing on a different character, albeit with a lot of overlap. The story is set almost entirely in a cafe with timeless decor that has an urban legend attached to it: time travel is possible inside the cafe. Whenever customers ask about travelling back in time, however, they are quickly put off by the very restrictive rules presented to them. Before the Coffee Gets Cold is about four people who did not let the restrictive rules stop them.

This was a very gentle and character-driven read. In each section, we get to know a particular character and their motivations for wanting to time travel. And, arguably most interestingly, their reasons for accepting the limitation of the cafe's time travel capabilities. The book was written in a nuanced but not overly-dramatic tone. Although I usually prefer plot-driven and/or drama-filled stories, I found myself keen to pick this one up again each evening.

I enjoyed Before the Coffee Gets Cold and I recommend it to anyone looking for a different sort of time travel story. I've heard it has been made into a (Japanese) movie called Cafe Funiculi Funicula and I'm interested in watching it as well, though I'm not sure how easy it will be to get my eyes on.

4 / 5 stars

First published: September 2019, Picador (Japanese version first published in 2015)
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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