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.
As the nights become shorter and the weather gets colder, what could be more comforting than a warm cup of coffee? Nothing if you're a caffeine addict like me! The past few weeks have been pretty hectic and with Christmas fast approaching, I've really found myself struggling to find the time to read. I knew I was heading towards a reading slump and I knew I had to snap out of it quickly! Thankfully the lovely folks over at PanMac sent me out a reading copy of Before the Coffee Gets Cold and after talking to a few colleagues who were in the middle of reading it, I found myself intrigued by the concept and desperate to give it a go.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is new territory for me. I don't really read magical realism and I've never read any modern translated fiction - or novellas for that matter. I was unsure what to expect but there was something about the concept that I just found charming: a small, unassuming coffee shop hidden away down some back-alley in Tokyo. I love quirky little coffee shops (if you're ever visiting Newcastle give me a bell and I'll tell you where to find all those hidden gems!) and reading this book felt like I was being let in on a well-kept secret.
I can't quite put my finger on what it is but there's something special about this book. I immediately found myself under its spell, as mesmerised by Funiculi Funicula as the customers in the story who visit it. The writing itself isn't remarkable - there's something quite formal and concise about the style (I've heard that this is pretty typical of Japanese fiction) - but there was something refreshing about reading a book so heavily driven by plot and dialogue without all the flowery language. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to read everything in this style, but it made a nice change and I think it's testament to the strength of the story that the book can remain so captivating without all of the embellishment and pages and pages of descriptive language.
The story itself is split into four parts, with each focusing on a different character who visits the cafe to travel through time for one reason or another. I don't want to give too much away because while time travel is central to the story, this book is not a sci-fi novella. It's a story about what it means to be human, why we find ourselves drawn to others, why we push people away, and the things we might do if we had the chance to start over. Before the Coffee Gets Cold depicts heartbreak, loss, family ties and love, and while each story can be read separately, collectively they present the human condition in all its parts leaving no emotion or experience untouched. It's a truly beautiful book that I think will move any reader and it's definitely one of my highlights for the year.
In my opinion, the less you know about this book before you read it, the better. I won't say anything more about the characters or their stories, except to say that they are all perfectly human in all their imperfect ways. You'll see yourself in each of these characters and when you get to the end you'll find yourself thinking about your own life, the choices you've made, and the paths you might someday take. This is definitely a book to savour and if you do read it, I hope you get as much out of it as me.
Have you read Before the Coffee Gets Cold? What were your thoughts? Did you have a favourite character or story? Leave a comment and let me know.