Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi–ATLP Book Review

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The Stats

  • 272 Pages
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Translated from Japanese
  • Four mini stories
  • Themes of Love, Grief, & Closure


SYNOPSIS

What if you could travel back in time and see a loved one that’s dead? a boyfriend that’s dumped you? Relive the moment you got engaged? Before The Coffee Gets Cold explores time travel–but with a caveat. A few, actually.

First, patrons that visit the little Tokyo cafe can only relive moments that happened in the cafe. People who visit the cafe won’t change, and those that choose to go back in the past can’t go outside the cafe or change the people who visited the cafe that day. Then, even if they still choose to go back to the moment they’re thinking about, they have to say their piece entirely before the coffee gets cold–that is, the coffee that’s served to them right before they travel through time. And then, there’s the most important aspect of time travel in the cafe: no matter how much patrons may want it to, anything they do during their time in the past won’t change the present.


REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Everyone’s probably heard of Before The Coffee Gets Cold by now. It’s been trending for some time, and it’s not a relatively new book–seeing that it was originally published in Japanese in 2019, translated to English in 2020.

This little book didn’t catch my attention at first. The cover isn’t much to look at, and it kind of looks like one of those little poetry coffee table books that you keep around just for the sake of keeping it around, you know? But, nevertheless, I recently read Becky Chamber’s A Psalm For The Wildbuilt, and I really enjoyed it. It was out of my comfort zone, but I found that the aspect of a book being able to just—comfort–someone really appealed to me. Before The Coffee Gets Cold was recommended as a similar title for readers who enjoyed Becky Chambers Monk and Robot series, so I thought I would give it a shot, and at worst–I’d DNF.

Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. I wouldn’t say that it has the same comforting ability that the Monk and Robot series has, but it certainly does have a healing facet to it. The book is all about closure. If you could go back in time and change one moment: what moment would you pick? What would you say to that person?

It’s an interesting concept and one worth exploring. The four short stories in the book all utilize the same characters, examining how they might react to scenarios where they are placed in “the chair” (and by the chair, I mean the only chair in the cafe that actually takes patrons back in time). I won’t go into too much detail, for the sake of spoilers, but the characters carry over nicely into each section as the story progresses–with our constant being the cafe, of course. If you’re interested in learning more about the characters and the rules of the cafe, check out Samantha Kilford’s review on her blog here (it seems like she also fell in love with this little book).

I do think the one thing that really bothered me here was that all of the women in this book are clearly written by a man. I don’t know if this is a cultural thing in Japan or if, like American men, Kawaguchi fell prey to the pitfalls of writing women, BUT I didn’t love how any of the female characters were written. Each female in this book is so startingly pretty that men are falling over themselves to ask her out. Harai is confident and wears short mini skirts. Kei is a natural beauty. Kazu is shy with round eyes. Fumiko (probably the worst offender) is so startingly drop-dead gorgeous that she can’t walk down the street without getting looks. Is this realistic? Hell no.

Men have been writing women has ‘beautiful, demure creatures’ since the beginning of time. So few male writers take the time to break the cycle and write in our cellulite, the curve of a hip, the acne on some woman’s chin. They don’t write in how awkwardly a character holds the coffee cup, or how another character stumbles down the stairs into the cafe. And, for me, that was a problem. I think A LOT of readers would easily blend these characters together, especially because many of their names sound similar–particularly Kei and Kazu.

I thought it was really interesting that there was really one reappearing male character in this book that was easily identified by his temper, and then another male character who was shy and quiet (identified by touching his brow)–both distinguishable. Yet, each female character kind of melded together into one and it was difficult to distinguish the characters from each other.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Despite my feelings on the male writer’s ability to write women, I definitely teared up at the end of this book. There are very few books that get me to do that. Before The Coffee Gets Cold is emotionally charged, but in such a subtle way. It helps readers take a look at the closure that they need in their own lives, and reminds them there are only so many moments that they can control.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read. It’s fast-paced, despite it’s calming narrative, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the plot. I don’t recommend reading this book if you’re recently grieving anyone, but if you’re in the healing process, it will definitely touch your heart.

Interested in more book reviews? Check out all the books I’ve read recently here or subscribe below for updates when new articles post (don’t worry, I won’t spam you!)

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