Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Goodreads: Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Publisher: Picador
Published: 19 September 2019
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

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…

TL;DR: A well-paced character driven story where the magical fits the mundane to perfection! Before the Coffee Gets Cold asks us if you would travel to the past knowing nothing would change in the present and if you could, who would you choose to meet, maybe for one last time? The four stories we follow wonderfully intertwine to create one moving story about love, loss, grief and hope. This was a short and quick read that packed quite an emotional punch and unsurprisingly, as a mood reader, made me teary eyed! It was equally heartbreaking and heartwarming and I would definitely recommend it.

I’m going to start off by saying that I don’t usually get on with magical realism because I find myself getting stuck on the ‘weirdness’ of it all, but there was something about this that I felt I would enjoy and I wasn’t wrong! The magic in the mundane really fit the setting and it didn’t feel outlandish or unbelievable, which made this that much more enjoyable for me.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold has a wonderful premise and asks us questions like would you travel to the past even knowing that nothing in the present would change? And if you could go back, who would you want to meet, maybe even for one last time? This was a quiet character-driven story that packs such an emotional punch! At just over 200 pages it’s not overly long but it’s exquisitely written and well-paced which made it so easy to read. That said, while I tend to speed through most of my reads, something about this compelled me to slow down and to let it properly sink in, and I’m very glad I took my time with it!

We follow four main stories, The Lovers, Husband and Wife, The Sisters, and Mother and Child. I was delighted by how the author brought the narratives together to create one big moving story about life, death, loss and hope. I wouldn’t say that anything particularly new was brought to the discussion, and yes, some might say the messaging was clichéd and perhaps a little old-fashioned, but I still found the story to be equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. The characters we meet are flawed and at times unlikeable and frustrating, but they’re also very human. They have traits that I think many readers can identify with and they also find themselves in situations that many readers can empathise with. As an emotional reader, it’s no surprise that most of these stories had me tearing up, but I’m not ashamed to admit that one of them (Husband and Wife) had me ugly crying hard because I related so much to what both characters experience. The emotions in that one really snuck in and sucker-punched me in the feels!

Elements of this story also reminded me a little of the show called Midnight Diner, about a tiny back-alley restaurant in Japan that opens after midnight. This book reminded me of that because of the quirky setting and characters, and the way the stories are told and experienced by the patrons, who are also impacted in one way or another by it. There’s a shared community feeling to it and I loved it!

Have you read Before the Coffee Gets Cold or is it on your TBR?

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

  1. This sounds great! It’s not a typical read for me but I’ve been curious about it, there’s something about the synopsis that lures me in. After your review, I think I’ll add it to my TBR.
    Great review, Dini! 🙂


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