Treat Your Shelf: Before the Coffee gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Adapted from the winner of the Grand Prize in the 10th Suginami Drama Festival, this novella was a bestseller in its original Japanese. Now available in English for the first time, the compelling narrative of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before The Coffee Gets Cold explores ideas of time-travel, kinship, loss, all the while asking the reader: ‘What would you change if you could go back in time?’.

Before The Coffee Gets Cold tells the stories of four people who visit a very special coffee shop in the back streets of Tokyo. Within the walls of this particular cafe it is possible to travel to the past, as long as you follow a specific set of rules: you can only speak to people who have visited the coffee shop, you cannot leave your seat, anything you do in the past will not affect the present, and you must return before your coffee gets cold. Kawaguchi shows us how four characters use the café’s magical abilities to revisit pivotal moments from their lives, and the effects that their journeys have on them. Before the Coffee Gets Cold is not your stereotypical science-fiction time-travel story, for what Kawaguchi does so beautifully in his novella is explore the effects of time-travel on his characters, rather than focusing on the phenomenon itself, thus allowing the character-driven narrative and emotional delivery of each tale to surely resonate with many a reader.

At just over 200 pages, the novella is short but sweet, yet within its limited size it addresses themes of loss, sibling relationships, marital responsibility, and motherhood in a heart-breaking and thought-provoking way. Through the four traveller’s brief sojourns through time, the reader is given a glimpse into their lives, losses and emotional journeys to accept their present. Kawaguchi’s writing is succinct and compassionate, creating characters that are uniquely human, with their own vulnerabilities and flaws. Additionally, Kawaguchi carefully considers his pace, regularly adding a sense of light-heartedness to balance the emotional impact that the tales could have on the reader. 

Before The Coffee Gets Cold essentially touches on the universal desire to know ‘what if’, and putting aside the premise of magical time-travel, it is a story about human relationships, missed opportunities and the enduring power of love.

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