While I loved the concept behind this I’m afraid the execution didn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s a quirky and unusual read but a little lacking in the emotion it needed to elevate it.
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?
I have to admit to being a little disappointed in this (and not only because of the lack of a cat despite one being shown on the cover). Having recently developed a love of Japanese fiction I was very excited to come across this on Netgalley, particularly when I read the blurb and discovered it was a story involving time travel (I love stories with time travel). Perhaps my expectations were too high as while I loved the concept behind it I didn’t really connect to it and it became an OK read rather than something special.
The story is set in a small cafe where if you sit in a specific seat and follow a set ritual you can travel in time. There are a number of rules but the most important is that you must return before your coffee gets cold. You can’t change your present by going to the past but you can go back and see someone you’ve lost, to tell them how you feel, to resolve conflicts and get closure. It’s a wonderful idea and there are some truly touching moments but these were too few and I think down to me being a soft touch rather than the story.
It’s so difficult to tell with translated fiction how much of the problems come from the translation and how much from the original but I did feel like the writing let it down. I am starting to think this is just typical of the Japanese style of writing, short, quick sentences, little in the way of description or emotion, but I felt this was particularly lacking.
I can’t say any of the characters were particularly likeable and they often come across as blunt, rude and unfeeling. They make fun of Fumiko for wanting to go back to the time her relationship ended as if she’s silly for being upset the man she hoped to marry chose work over her.
There are times when it seems in fact that the author views all women as silly, nasty or manipulative. It could be a cultural thing or it may be something has gotten lost in translation but I found a few things annoying. Kei not having a phone because her husband does, Hasai thinking women need to wield tears like a weapon.
Added to this it’s a little repetitive in places and some of the rules around time travel seemed a little inconsistent or forced to fit the story. I also thought the ending left a little too much unresolved.
It is however an intriguing read and does make you ponder a few things. At around 200 pages it’s also quite a quick read so it’s not too difficult to make it to the end.
Overall, an interesting and different read that was just missing the emotion needed to elevate it. I would still say it’s worth a read but if you’re looking for Japanese fiction there are better books out there.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thanks to netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an ARC. All views are my own.