Review: Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshicazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Before the Coffee Gets Cold
by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

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.


THE BLURB

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?


MY REVIEW

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.

Review: If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura

If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
If Cats Disappeared from the World
by Genki Kawamura

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been making a real effort to read more translated fiction, so was very excited to find this story about a man who makes a deal with the devil. It has some really intriguing ideas and raises some big questions but while I did kind of love it and found it a very emotional read there seemed to be some issues with either the writing or more likely the translation that stopped it from being truly exceptional.


THE BLURB

Our narrator’s days are numbered. Estranged from his family, living alone with only his cat Cabbage for company, he was unprepared for the doctor’s diagnosis that he has only months to live. But before he can set about tackling his bucket list, the Devil appears with a special offer: in exchange for making one thing in the world disappear, he can have one extra day of life. And so begins a very bizarre week . . .

Because how do you decide what makes life worth living? How do you separate out what you can do without from what you hold dear? In dealing with the Devil our narrator will take himself – and his beloved cat – to the brink. Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World is a story of loss and reconciliation, of one man’s journey to discover what really matters in modern life.

This beautiful tale is translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland, who also translated The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. Fans of The Guest Cat will also surely love If Cats Disappeared from the World.


MY REVIEW

This book left me in such a blubbering mess I didn’t know where to start as far as reviewing it. I find it difficult to separate my heart, which kind of loved it, from my head, which recognizes there was something about the writing style or possibly the translation that just didn’t work for me.

I’ve been making a real effort to read more translated fiction but to be honest what first drew me to this book was the cover and that title (yes I totally judge books by their covers). As a cat lover and owner of a small black cat I couldn’t resist that little cutie and it sounded like a quirky and intriguing premise. Thankfully, the story is not about cats disappearing (how awful would that be) but instead is about a 30 year old man who finds out he’s going to die soon and has to figure out what it is that makes life worth living.

He’s offered a deal by the devil whereby if he removes one thing from existence he gets one more day of life. While this initially seems easy, as he agrees to give up each thing he begins to realize that they may have more purpose and importance than he thought. He discovers connections between these items and the events and people in his life and how his life (and theirs) would be very different without them. He has to decide just what his life is worth without these things in it.

It’s told as a mixture of current day interactions and flashbacks to events from his past, gradually revealing the reasons why he’s very much alone, and why his closest relationship is with his cat, Cabbage. As you can imagine it’s an incredibly sad story and there was a lot of it that really resonated with me. He fears a lot of the things I do and has similar regrets and reactions. There was a lot in the story that had be sobbing (and I think I went through practically a whole box of tissues) however, these heartbreaking moments are offset a little with some lighter and funnier moments (generally involving the cat).

Where I’m really struggling however is with the writing as I can’t decide what to think and as it was translated from Japanese it’s difficult to know how much is down to the original and how much to the translation. The whole thing is very short and snappy and there is very little in the way of descriptions or dialogue, it’s almost entirely an internal monologue. There is also very little sense of place or culture so it feels like it could be set pretty much anywhere which for me, seemed a bit of a shame as it could really have added some depth to the story.

In addition to this, there is something off in the dialogue and the interactions between characters. I can’t put my finger on exactly what but something didn’t feel right to me.

Despite this though it did get to me and while I do cry pretty easily this is possibly the most I’ve cried reading a book in a while. So where does that leave me? I think I may need to read it again but I think I kind of loved it. I loved the message in it and I loved how emotional it made me. I just wish they would have a look at the translation.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.