Sunday, January 16, 2022

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Toshikazu Kawaguchi

This lovely little book is about a tiny café in Tokyo which has been serving a special coffee for more than one hundred years. Visitors to the café can also take advantage of a special service; they can travel back in time under specific conditions. There is limited seating in the café, one small room with three seats at the bar and three small tables that each seat two people. I am willing to try any book that includes time travel, and this one was perfect for me.

The novel is divided into four sections, each about 60-70 pages long. Each part has connections to the others. The sections of the book are: "The Lovers," "Husband and Wife," "The Sisters," and "Mother and Child." So you can see that each time travel event explores relationships. Except for the first part, each one has a very emotional story to tell. I was most affected by the second part, "Husband and Wife."

This is a time travel book but very different from others I have read. Compared to time travel where the concept is explored in depth, this novel only gives us a few small doses of time travel. The time travel in this book is made for personal reasons, not for scientific or historical research. There is no machine or scientific invention that controls the time travel, or study or preparation to get ready for the actual trip back into an earlier time. Once you visit the café, if you follow the rules and convince the staff to facilitate the trip, it can happen. 

There are, however, a lot of rules and limitations, and those who want to time travel are informed of these before they start. Whether they will follow the rules is another issue.

I felt good, upbeat and happy, while reading this novel, especially at the end. I read one section every night, and looked forward to returning to the story the next day. The story was sad at times, but overall it was optimistic and positive. I liked the characters, they seemed real to me, and I enjoyed getting to know them for a little while.

This novel highlighted for me how much our own attitudes and background determine our reactions and what we consider appropriate or useful behavior. So although I disagreed with or was confused about choices some of the characters had made, I did not feel judgmental about them. This book also confirmed that I like time travel in any form. 

The story is an adaptation of a play written by the same author, and sometimes that shows. The action is limited to the café, even the time travel event. The story has also been adapted to film. I found the story both entertaining and thought provoking.

This was my first selection for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15.


Publisher:   Hanover Square Press, 2019 (orig. pub. 2015)
Translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot 
Length:       272 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Tokyo, Japan
Genre:        Fiction, time travel
Source:       From my TBR shelves. Purchased in 2021.


Nan said...

Really terrific review. I so loved this book. I have never read anything like it. I read two other books you might like for your challenge -
Sweet Bean Paste, and Convenience Store Woman.
I thought the first one wonderful, and the second one was quite unusual but I did like it. There is also a film of the first one.

TracyK said...

Nan, thanks so much for the recommendations. I am planning to read Convenience Store Woman and probably very soon. Sweet Bean Paste is new to me, but I read the summary on Goodreads and it sounds very good, so I will look for a copy. I don't know if I will get to it for the challenge this year because the challenge is only through March, but I can read it later in the year.

Margot Kinberg said...

This sounds really interesting, Tracy. I'll admit that I'm not well-versed in time-travel stories. But it's a really interesting concept, and I like the setting. It sounds like it's got a lot of stories to tell - almost a personality of its own. Glad you enjoyed this.

TracyK said...

I have not read all that much time travel, Margot, but what I have read in the last few years is much different than this. I am very glad I decided to try this one.

neer said...

I hadn't heard of this book, Tracy but seems like a good one as it explores relationships. Haven't read much in the time-travel trope.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I heard it as an audio book and sometimes that is not the best way to experience a book. The reader can pull you in or take you out. I think I am going to look for a print version after reading this.

Cath said...

Love the sound of this, Tracy, and will make a note of it for my Round the world challenge that I mentioned in your recent post. (You may even have mentioned it to me there, I'm not sure now.)

TracyK said...

Cath, I may have mentioned it, I can't remember either. Because I had been working on the post for several days. Trying not to say too much about the story and not too little is sometimes hard.

I thought this had a good picture of Japan, even though it stayed within the café. There are some events outside the café that are described.

TracyK said...

Neer, I have read time travel that seems almost accidental (like The Time Traveler's Wife) and some books that about historical societies (or such) that plan expeditions to the past. All of them appeal to me for some reason.

This one was quite different, almost supernatural, but I liked it a lot. It has been described as magical realism, which I have not read much (if any) of.

TracyK said...

Patti, I was thinking about audio books recently. I haven't ever read via audio book, so my thoughts are not based on experience. I can see how reading some books on audio would be much better (Agatha Christie's Poirot books, for instance), and with others the experience could be ruined, if the reader gives a different emphasis or tone.

Bellezza said...

I love how you read a little bit each night, and how you said it made you happy and upbeat. The concept is so intriguing; there are many things I would like to have a chance to ‘do over’, or at least address. It is hard not to get caught in regret, sometimes, and this book gave a certain amount of hope. So glad you read it for the JLC15; do you think you’ll read the second one, Tales From The Cafe?

TracyK said...

This book was such a good reading experience, Bellezza. I definitely plan to get the second one and read it. I have cut back on book buying in 2022, at least for a few months, so it may be later in the year before I get to it (or even 2023).

Lisa of Hopewell said...

I enjoyed both of the books of the Cafe. I agree about it being fun. I listened to the wonderful, calm, audio version.

TracyK said...

I bet that would be a good book to listen to, Lisa. I will be getting the second book to read also.