In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee—the chance to travel back in time.
... heartwarming and quirky ... At the very beginning, Kawaguchi throws all of these personalities at the reader in rapid succession, and it was difficult for me to keep track of who was who. Also, the names are very similar, which made it challenging to identify the characters until much later on in the story. However, I recognize that the book was adapted from a play, where it is easier to differentiate the players (thanks to the visual cues) ... The novel takes place in the same café over a continuous time period, so you really get to know the regulars and the staff. They have their own troubles and joys, and each relationship is unique and heartfelt. In the absence of a magical café in real life, Kawaguchi encourages readers to value the time they have with their loved ones ... Although a bit slow at times, the story is gold and brought me to tears multiple times ... I appreciated how short and sweet both the novel and the time-travel trips were. Before the Cofee Gets Cold is perfect for anyone who wants to feel connected right now.
... may explore similar ground to its predecessors in the genre, but it inventively limits the mechanics of its time travel to the confines of a small cafe, and is all the more resonant for it. At times, Kawaguchi’s hand is a bit too prominent, but despite the occasional clumsiness, the narrative is deeply moving ... Kawaguchi’s greatest contribution to the genre, and perhaps his highest accomplishment in the novel, is the strictness of the rules he imposes on time travel ... Kawaguchi’s more prolific medium should come as no surprise to readers of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, and his growing pains in adapting to the novel form is the great shortcoming of the book. Beyond the in-depth description of the cafe itself and of the customers and staff, the action of the book is written in a way deeply reminiscent of stage direction. Exposition seems to be a particular struggle for Kawaguchi, and he often resorts to authorial asides, in which he lays bare the weight of his situations and the depth of his characters ... And yet, this is only a minor blemish on the book. Kawaguchi’s characters are the real stars here, and their empathy for one another is powerful. The first story of four in the novel, about a woman who didn’t discourage her boyfriend from moving to America, is perhaps the weakest of the book, but only for the heights of what’s yet to come ... This willingness to play with the form shows how deeply Kawaguchi has explored his own conventions, and the nuance he is capable of bringing to the table. Before the Coffee Gets Cold is mostly conventional, and a little rough around the edges. But it’s also sweet, warm, and moving. Kawaguchi’s characters all have a role to play, and the way they interact with each other, between the staff and the patrons, creates an environment where the reader, too, can feel welcomed and optimistic.
... a quirky, sigh-inducingly satisfying read ... As a first-time novelist, Kawaguchi’s writing isn’t quite comparable (yet?) to some of his globally revered compatriots – think Haruki Murakami, Yoko Tawada, Banana Yoshimoto, and Kenzaburō Ōe. His narrative is occasionally uneven and tends to meander- readers might like to know why Kazu is the only one able to pour the brew, for example, while the description of Hirai’s family’s historic business could have skipped a few irrelevant details. The new author is also sometimes repetitive, and his sentences aren’t always exactly elegant ... And yet, where Kawaguchi excels is undoubtedly more essential: He has a surprising, unerring ability to find lasting emotional resonance. Interwoven into what initially feels like a whimsical escape are existential conundrums of love and loss, family and freedom, life and death.