Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

If you, like me, wept cleansing tears after reading Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune, or felt healed playing indie game Coffee Talk, you’ll probably want to try Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. This is an understated tale of magical realism featuring a small and endearing cast of characters, a wry touch of humor, and a deep well of empathetic human insight.

In the interconnected stories of this book, several people with regrets come to the hidden café where (reportedly) you can travel in time. They learn from the café’s quirky staff that it’s true, although there are some rules:

1- you can only travel to the café, nowhere else.

2- no matter what you do in the past, the present will not change.

3- there’s only one seat where you can travel back.

4- you cannot leave the seat while traveling in time or you’ll snap back to the present.

5- you’ll travel back as your cup of coffee is poured, and the effect will only last until the coffee gets cold.

6- you have to drink the whole cup of coffee, or risk becoming a ghost, stuck forever.

For me, this book did take a second to acclimate to; it’s fairly evident by the syntax that it’s been translated from Japanese. There are also different cultural norms to get used to in the characters’ behavior. However, the stories are relatable, and the elements of difference only serve to accentuate that. Readers are likely to come out of this book feeling they’ve glimpsed something essential and real about human existence — and maybe processed some feelings of their own along the way.

If you’ve heard the hype but weren’t sure if it’s worth it (spoilers: it is!), or if you like translated books, quirky characters on emotional journeys, and cool cafés, you should definitely try this book.

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