Originally published: September 2019
Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)
Published by: Picador
Length: 224 pages
Reading dates: 24-27 February 2021
For February’s book club we voted for books that had something to do with food or drink in the title. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi was our chosen book and I was so excited to read it! It has been on my wish list for a while – I think anyone who knows me will know I’m a sucker for a great book cover and this one is just beautiful.
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 . . .
I loved the premise of this. A café where time travel is possible but with many, many rules. There is only one chair you can sit in; you have to stay on this chair when you travel back so anyone you want to see has to be in the café too. Nothing you can say or do will change the present and you must return before the coffee gets cold or you will never be able to leave the café again.
When I read these rules, I couldn’t really think of a reason to travel back in time – if you can’t change the outcome then what is the point? But Kawaguchi has detailed four time travelling stories that show how time travel helped the four people who try it – a woman who wants to speak to her boyfriend who left her to go and work in America; A woman who wants to speak to her husband again before the Alzheimer’s claimed him; A woman who wants to speak to her sister one last time and a woman who wants to meet her daughter.
It almost felt like a collection of four short stories because there was a lot of repetition. I didn’t feel really connected to any of the characters – some of the stories should of felt quite sad but I just didn’t feel the emotion I think the author was aiming for. I wasn’t sure if this was a clumsy translation. Book club as a whole all felt similar with regards to the translation quality but having read the author bio, it appears Before the Coffee Gets Cold is adapted from a screenplay and I wonder if this is the reason is didn’t read quite right. I think it probably worked really well as a play but not as well as a book.
Having said all this, if the opportunity arose I would be keen to read the sequel, Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café as there is a character I’d love to know more about and I have been told she is featured in this book! I did enjoy it though just not as much as I thought I would.
We all rated it between 7/10 so not a bad book but none of us really loved it. But we had lots of discussion and that’s always the sign of a good book club book!
About the author:
Toshikazu Kawaguchi was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971. He formerly produced, directed and wrote for the theatrical group Sonic Snail. As a playwright, his works include COUPLE, Sunset Song, and Family Time. The novel Before the Coffee Gets Cold is adapted from a 1110 Productions play by Kawaguchi, which won the 10th Suginami Drama Festival grand prize.