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'Before the Coffee Gets Cold' - book review

by Catriona Fida

Before the Coffee Gets Cold asks the question: what would you do if you could travel back in time? It teaches us to not dwell on what can’t be changed and to instead look to the future.

One of the things I liked most about this book was that all the stories are set in the same location, inside the little unassuming coffee shop which, legend dictates, offers its customers the chance to travel in time. While the location remains a constant in the book, the characters we meet and their situations are constantly changing, which alleviates running the risk of the story becoming too ‘claustrophobic’.

The premise is that those wishing to travel in time must return to the present day before their coffee turns cold. There are a bunch of other rules that dictate the cafe’s restrictions on time travelling but this is by far the most important one since, failure to do so, will result in the person being turned into a ghost. Perhaps the biggest disappointment to each person wanting to travel in time is that nothing they can do will change the future. This is what has deterred many from time travel and is the cause for the cafe’s lack of customers.

The book explores three different kinds of relationships: between young lovers, husband and wife, two sisters and of a mother and her child. Two of the stories are about travelling into the past, whereas the final two stories are about characters wishing to journey into the future. I loved the format of the book too; each chapter was split into a single person’s journey in time.

Yes, this book is simply written. But, this book is also a thoroughly entertaining feel-good read. It will not be the most profound book you will have read this year, but what it lacks in complex ideas it makes up for in its charm and wittiness. Having read a few reviews of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, I do agree with other reviewers that this book may translate better into a play, since its narration did at times read like stage directions. But this is not necessarily a criticism, I just think it requires a different style of reading. In fact, I think it would work excellently as a play.

On the flip side, its simplicity does make for a story that will be relatable for a lot of readers. It explores grief and different ways in which people deal with loss, but it also teaches its readers some important life lessons. I think it is this which prevents the book from being another clichéd Sci-Fi novel because it isn’t really about time travel at all. While travelling back in time has helped the characters of the book gain closure within their personal situations, the transformation they experience is fundamentally one they make for themselves. Travelling in time had facilitated this change, but it was not instrumental in the change taking place.

This is the first book of a Japanese translation that I have read and it has now made me eager to explore what else Japanese literature has to offer. My only real qualm with it is that I would have loved to find out more about 'the woman in the dress’ but, apart from that, the book was a really satisfying read. I would recommend Before the Coffee Gets Cold to anyone after a feel-good read this winter.

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