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Michelle’s commentary on books, digital publishing and intersections between fiction & reality

Reading “Before the coffee gets cold” in Nice, France

December 21, 2021

The Book: Before the coffee gets cold: Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


4/5 stars

*No spoilers, just bits about the plot*

I’d run out of books on my immediate “must read list” and wasn’t sure what to pick up next. I honestly just Googled “Best books of 2021” and this one popped up. I’m not really sure why now—as it doesn’t when I search again and it was published in 2020. Regardless, it was a really short and sweet read that was a good contrast to the longer novels I’d been reading.

The entire book takes place essentially in one room, a café in the back alley of Tokyo. It’s no ordinary café, after adhering to a certain set of rules, customers can travel back or forward in time.

It’s a classic example of magical realism, and the story of the café and the family who runs it are revealed through four separate stories. There’s the man who goes back to speak to his deceased best friend, the son who goes back to visit his sick mother, the man who goes to the future to meet his current fiancée and the husband who goes back to the day of his wife’s murder to give her a birthday present.


According to the rules of the café, the person you’re going to see must have been in the café before (as you cannot travel anywhere outside of the room), you must not leave your seat, nothing you do in the past will change the present and your visit must conclude before your coffee gets cold.

The stories of the four indivdiuals who use the café’s time traveling abilities are not connected, but they come together in the way they help shape and explain the story of Kazu, Nagare and Miki Tokita.

I love the concept, especially with the known rule that you can’t change anything by going to the past. It’s especially heartbreaking and insightful to understand why these people want to go back, knowing they can’t change the fate of the person they’re meeting.

It’s important to note that this book is translated from Japanese, so some of the more emotional parts lack some depth. For this reason I wish I could understand it how it was originally written, because it really is a beautiful book that deals with love and loss so well.

For a short, sweet and thoughtful read, I’d definitely recommend it. I could’ve easily finished it in one sitting if I wanted to.

Favorite Quotes

  • People lie for different reasons. Some lies are told in order to present yourself in a more interesting or more  favourable light; others are told to deceive people. Lies can hurt, but they can also save your skin. Regardless of  why they are told, however, lies most often lead to regret.
  • There is no one day that clearly marks when winter ends and spring begins. Spring hides inside winter. We  notice it emerging with our eyes, our skin and other senses. We find it in new buds, a comfortable breeze and the  warmth of the sun. It exists alongside winter.
  • We can never truly see into the hearts of others. When people get lost in their own worries, they can be blind to the feelings of those most important to them.
  • Seasons flow in a cycle. Life too, passes through difficult winters. But after any winter, spring will follow.

The Place: My last few days in Nice, France


I was going to wait until I got to Vienna to start my next book, but as I said this was a really short read so it was perfect. I was actually supposed to head to Vienna on Dec. 4, but the country was under a lockdown so I decided to stay longer in Nice and didn’t leave for Vienna until Dec. 13.


It worked out great because I got to enjoy some of the christmas markets in the area. The Nice one was awesome, they put up the huge ferris wheel and a massive light exhibit. Not to mention, a lot of really good food.

Definitely sad to say goodbye to Nice, as strange as it is it almost felt more like home those 2 months there than my 5 years in Seattle. I think that mostly has to do with it being a small, walkable city. It was also the first place I really lived independent of school—and not to mention I made some pretty great friends.

But, I wanted more of a Christmas-y feel for the holidays, so off to Vienna, auf wiedersehen!

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