Book: “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” (2019 – Picador)
Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousellot
I was always intrigued by Japanese writers (Murakami stands large, The Convenience Store Woman was haunting), and when this book popped up as one the best books to read in 2019 on the usual end of the year list by a newspaper I forget, it caught my eye. After a casual search I download it on my kindle. And at the back of my mind was that this may land up on to TBR folder for years – (yes I am ruthless and shameless). But a casual read of the first few pages changed my mind. The slow start but the quick buildup caught my attention, and there was no putting down this book.
The storyline is on time travel. The Guardian does a quick review of best novels on time travel, and the list is sadly missing this wonderful book.
Time travel in a coffee shop. The premise is complicated. One sits on particular chair and can go back in time of his/her choosing. The rules are complicated which one discovers throughout the book. One cannot move from chair, and needs to finish the coffee before it gets cold, which makes one come back to the present. Else bad things can happen to you.
The set piece is intriguing. One would think – ok- so that is pretty restrictive isn’t it? One cannot go fighting bad invaders on Mars and save the world. But as one finds out there can be so many variations to this set, it is mind boggling. Do you want to meet anyone in the past and take back the harsh words you said? Do you want to meet somebody who is dead? Do you wish you could say hello to that lovely woman you met, and did not have the guts to say anything? The possibilities are endless!
The author exploits the set pieces very well. There are just four short stories or set pieces, all build around most of the characters one is introduced quickly. But I could already think of many other fascinating situations. And the stories do not read as discrete separate pieces. They have a synergy about them, which helps one to calibrate the settings. Else with short set pieces and time travel, the reading can be disconcerting.
The only complaint I have is that the author kept on introducing new rules which govern time travel till the last chapter. Now that I thought was short changing the readers. It is like an Agatha Christie murder mystery, where some vital clue is deliberately kept away from the reader.
The translation is competent. Although I do not know Japanese, I could tell the there was enough cultural sensibility which survived the process.
Overall, an excellent read, much recommended for people who have trouble with longer novels (like I had with Americanah!). A short book, riveting read and ends much too soon. I could almost start a new chapter with my own time travel tragedy![ratings]