On the Same Page: depth, detail, and emotion in “Before the Coffee Gets Cold”

by Katherine Winton (’25) and Smriti Vijay (’25) | March 10, 2023

Art by Katherine Winton (’25)

Traditionally, novels involving time travel exist squarely in the science fiction genre. The general premise of these stories consists of someone or something changing history, and a subsequent rushed sequence of problems that the main character races to remedy before time is altered permanently. 

However, Before the Coffee Gets Cold, written by Toshikazu Kawaguchi and translated into English by Geoffrey Trousselet, takes a different approach. The ability to time travel in this fictional world is located in Funiculi Funicula, a cafe in Tokyo. However, a few rules apply when returning to the past: customers who choose to visit the past must sit in one particular seat, cannot leave the café, cannot change the present, and most importantly, must return to the original timeline before their coffee gets cold. An exploration into four individuals with interconnected stories, Before the Coffee Gets Cold follows the extraordinary circumstances the four time travelers face as they yearn to return to the past in the name of family, love, regret, and more. 

Despite the brief length of the novel, there was no shortage of positive aspects in its beautifully written, detailed pages. The book, which executed its premise perfectly, elicited many emotions, through amazing storytelling and character-building. Although the world-building was limited—almost entirely taking place in Funiculi Funicula—the book dove into the history of the cafe and, more importantly, the histories of the characters, in order to help readers form attachments later used to elicit the raw emotions that make the novel special. 

Saint Francis Book Club attendee Maanasi Sridhar (’23) said their favorite character was Yaeko Hirai, whose complex character and family-oriented story made her relatable and likable despite her apparent flaws. Kara Merkert (’24), another Book Club member, liked Kazu the most because despite never having her own story, she was a constant through the stories of others and built her character through small details scattered throughout.

Additionally, the length of the book made it a fairly easy read, which allows readers struggling with slumps to flip through the pages and still absorb the deep messages conveyed by the author. The repeated message of being unable to change time but being able to change one’s heart and perspective contributed to an insightful, memorable read. Overall, while reading the novel, we did not want to put it down, reading late into the night, making it a five-star book. 

However, despite the extensive positives of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, not everything was perfect for a satisfying reading experience. The novel began fairly abruptly, throwing the reader into the plot with little to no context which, mixed with the nature of the novel, made for a confusing beginning. Regardless, the novel recovered from this unfortunate start very quickly.

Some might be disappointed by the writing, too. At times, the detail embedded in the descriptions of the characters’ feelings was lengthy and exhausting, with no real conclusion to the characters’ emotional arcs. In addition, a couple of the stories in the novel seemed to anticlimactically resolve, or perhaps just unsatisfactorily. Still, the novel has more than its fair share of fantastic writing and meaning. 

Saint Francis Book Club members enjoyed the novel as well, specifically the amount of detail the author infuses into the stories, focusing on different characters and giving them distinct traits and personalities to tie the novel together beautifully. Sridhar said that they believed that the theme of the novel was that “while it’s impossible to change the events of the past, what we can do is control our reactions to it.” Merkert described it as a message of how “love changes over time.” Both rated the novel a four out of five stars.

Sridhar recommends this novel to “anyone with unfinished business or in a fight with someone they cherish, to let them know that these types of things will not matter in the future.” Merkert believes “someone looking for a relaxing read” will enjoy the book. We recommend it to anyone who loves magical realism and wants stories with purpose and emotion. The literary representation of a second chance, Before the Coffee Gets Cold delves deeper into human reasoning and everyday struggles. An amazing debut that touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers, it is sure to both provide one with unparalleled life lessons and render one irrevocably sad, but in a good way. 

Categories: Column, Entertainment, Features

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