Before the Coffee Gets Cold book review | Fiction in Translation


As I announced at the end of last year and earlier this month, I am committing myself to reading (at least) one translated novel each month.

To help with this, I’ve created a TBR list which lays out each of the books I’ll be reading throughout the year, in case anyone would like to join in.

This month, my book was Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot.

I spoke about my love for Japanese fiction in my first Fiction in Translation post, but it was really the catalyst for me starting this project, because I thought if I love fiction from Japan so much, how many other countries am I missing out on that I might also love?

So, it felt only apt that I chose a Japanese translated fiction to start off the series.

It’s a short, sharp novel, which is split into four separate parts. These are the lovers, husband and wife, the sisters and mother and child.

Essentially it focuses on a cafe which is famous for its time travelling possibilities. However, these come with rules, you can only meet someone who is in the cafe, and you have to leave before the coffee in your cup gets cold. Anything that happens in the past will also not change the future.

It’s quite difficult to adequately this book without spoiling it, because it’s only just over 200 pages long. However, what I didn’t expect from this book was the issues that it tackled.

I was a bit underwhelmed with the first story, the lovers, which follows a girl and her boyfriend who is moving to America and leaving her. I found the main woman in the story quite over the top and dramatic, although fair enough, because she is pretty distraught at finding out her boyfriend is leaving.

However, I found the second story, husband and wife, and the third story, the sisters, both deeply sad. I don’t want to spoil them, but they both deal with life-changing circumstances, and relationships in a way that the first story fell a bit short for me.

The fourth story was a bit different, in that it actually follows someone travelling to the future. I’m not sure this one really worked for me, but again, it is also a deeply saddening topic, following a woman who is pregnant.

I don’t think that any of the characters in this novel particularly stood out to me as memorable, and I’m not sure it’s a book that I’ll be thinking about for years to come, but I did enjoy it and would pick up more books by the author in the future.

I didn’t expect it to tackle difficult topics, which I think it did well combined with the magical realism element of the time travel, never undermining the topic.


If you’d like to join in with February’s book, I will be reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, a novel translated from Polish.

Other translated novels I read this month:

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki – two stars

Uzumaki by Junji Ito – four stars

Men Without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami – two stars

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