“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Thanks to a Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I am a huge fan of Japanese literature and always hesitate to describe something as very ‘Japanese’ because Japanese culture is not a monolith but…this book is very Japanese.

I can of course only talk about Japanese literature in translation. It could be a chicken and egg type situation where only certain types of Japanese novels are translated but I digress. If you’ve read much Japanese fiction the ‘feel’ of this novel will be familiar to you.

This is a story about a magical coffee shop. Customers to this coffee shop can travel back in time but there are rules. Some of these rules include: anything you say in the past can’t change the present, travellers can’t leave their seat and they have to finish their coffee before it gets cold or else risk being stuck between time.

The book follows a number of different customers as they seek to return to the past and revisit pivotal moments from their lives. Once you set aside the fantastical premise, this is really a book about the relationships between people, the things left unsaid and the enduring impacts of love and loss.

The action all takes place in the confines of the coffee shop which can give the narrative a slightly claustrophobic feeling. The characters are enigmatic and unknowable, particularly the employees of the coffee shop Kazu and Nagare. The novel kind of reminded me of the show Midnight Diner which is a real gem if you haven’t seen it.

This is an interesting and thought provoking novel which may feel a little ‘quiet’ for some. Treasure people while you have them and tell them the things you need to say. There are no magical coffee shops in real life.

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