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?
This one took me by surprise. Not in the sense that I didn’t think I would like it, but rather in the way that it panned out. A friend of mine suggested this to me and I happily obliged to after I heard about the concept. As I was reading the first part, I was definitely not super engrossed, but willing to press on out of interest. But after the second, third and the final part, I found that I was really enjoying it, and the rest of the book flew by for me!
Before the Coffee Gets Cold centers around a special café in Japan. Its specialty? Time travel. Say what? Yes that’s right, at this coffee shop, they offer a very special deal indeed, an opportunity to go back through time….with conditions of course. I thoroughly enjoyed the way time travel was portrayed in this novel, and how the situation was set up for it to occur. Perhaps it’s the Japanese origin of this book, or perhaps I haven’t read enough time travel stories, but this one struck me as quite unique, and the themes that it explored using its special time travel scenario was very well done.
The book is set up in four parts, each following a different individual who ends up deciding to go on this little time travelling journey. What is the price of time travel and what are the gains and risks? These are all questions that are well answered in here, in my opinion. Though of a scientific education, I am not a particular stickler for the scientific feasibility and logic of such sci-fi stories. Despite this, I found the scenarios to be quite believable, and the staff of the café really do well to add to its mysticism. Each character has their own personal growth journey, and a very particular reason why they want to travel back in time – what will they learn along the way, and will they come out the other side a changed person?
Of course in any time travel book, the mechanics and rules of all the time travel itself are very interesting and intriguing. However, the build up and growth of the characters, and the complexities of the choices one can face even with an option to travel through time, really spoke to me in this book. I really felt for each character, and struggled to contemplate what I would do in their situation. I found that each scenario in the book added more and more stakes to time travel, and this quiet underlying build up of tension and suspense also constantly pulled me forward through this story. Overall, I had a great experience reading this book, and I can solidly recommend it to all of you guys!
Note from Fives: I do believe this book is translated from Japanese though, so some of the manners of speech, etc. are more or less directly translated and were a bit odd as a North American reader. That being said they weren’t grammatically incorrect or anything – just make sure to keep that in mind if you ever find something a bit strange in the way things are said. Some things just don’t translate to English very well, and I’m glad the translator chose to keep true to the elements of Japanese culture.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a tale of an interesting café with the ability to transport its patrons backwards in time. Set in Japan, translated from its original Japanese, this story follows different customers looking to tap into the special powers of this café. It has very original rules for its time travel, and undoubtedly creates complex situations in which these customers must make decisions of heavy weight. How the customers go through their decision making, and the ramifications of their choices are all explored in this short novel. What would you do if offered the chance to go back in time? A very thought-provoking novel, with ever increasing tensions with each story, brings us through an emotional journey which truly tackles the complexity of human nature. I recommend this read for sure!