Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot. Picador (2019). 273 pages. Genre:  Fiction. 

First Lines: "'Oh gosh, is that the time?  Sorry, I have to go,' the man mumbled evasively, as he stood up and reached for his bag."

Summary:  Funiculi Funicula is a small, basement cafe in the city of Tokyo.  The cafe serves delicious coffee, but it is also becoming known for its ability to allow people to travel in time.  The cafe is over 100 years old and its interior hasn't changed much since it opened.  While the summers are hot, the cafe has no air conditioning, but is always cool.  

In order to travel in time, there are several rules that must be followed.  Most notably, "no matter how hard one tries while back in the past, one cannot change the present".  Most people are deterred from attempting time travel by these rules.  However, one summer, four people decide to take a chance and travel back in time.  Each of them has some unfinished business in a relationship that causes them to think that if they set things right in the past, they can more easily accept what has happened in the present.  Is it pointless to go back in time if you can't change the present?  Or is there something else to be gained?

My thoughts:  This was a unique, moving story that unfolds page by page.  

The cafe is run by a manager and his wife.  They have one other employee, who has appointed herself as the one who instructs those desiring to time-travel on the rules.  She also pours the coffee.  The other characters make up the atmosphere of the cafe.  They are regulars who interact with one another and several of them decide to travel back in time this particular summer.  

There are four chapters in the book which correspond with the four characters that time-travel.  These are relationships that are common to all of us, which makes it easy to identify with these characters and the unfinished business they have.  The chapter titles are:  The Lovers; Husband and Wife; The Sisters; Mother and Child.

I enjoyed the writing style of this author.  He interspersed present day conversation with stories of the character's past.  It was easy to switch back and forth because there would be a symbol (a coffee cup) on the page separating one from the other.  The author also included some factual information about Tokyo or the cafe's history or a medical condition experienced by one of the characters.  I found this interesting and it added depth to the story.  

I don't often read stories involving magical realism or time travel, but I'm glad I read this one.  It was an enjoyable read that I won't soon forget.


"Water flows from high places to low places.  That is the nature of gravity.  Emotions also seem to act according to gravity.  When in the presence of someone with whom you have a bond, and to whom you have entrusted your feelings, it is hard to lie and get away with it.  The truth just wants to come flowing out."


  1. I saw this book at the bookstore just recently. I'm thinking of reading it. Your review has encouraged me. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome, Kathy! I think you will enjoy it.

  2. I liked this book also. I identified most with the parent who wanted to see her grown up not yet born daughter. There is interesting details in the novel on food and dress also. Thanks for stopping by The Reading Life .

    1. Hi Mel, I think the I probably identified with that story most as well. That was definitely the most moving story. I also enjoyed the food and dress details. I will definitely be stopping by your blog again! Have a good weekend.

  3. I just followed your blog and look forward to your posts.

  4. I didn't know this one involved magical realism/ time travel! But I did see this one in many best-of-2020 lists. Looks like something I'd really enjoy, thanks!
    (Followed you here from the Japanese Literature Challenge 14.)
    ~ Lex ( 

    1. Hi Lex! For me it had just the right amount of magical realism. It was definitely a memorable book. Thanks for stopping by!