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Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Book Review)

Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Before the Coffee Gets Cold, #1)Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Saw this book on one of my regular excursions to my local charity shop. I had been thinking that day how, having failed to heed my mum’s repeated warnings while growing up, I too have succumbed to the perils of coffee addiction, and am now far past the point of no return. So, to be honest, that was what drew me to this book. It was the only book in the shop that had the word “coffee” in its title.

I then felt a strong urge to reach for my phone and load up Goodreads to read all the reviews. But, for the first time since I can remember, I resisted, and decided I would take the book on its own merits. I would give it a chance. If it turns out to be a disappointment, then at least I know what a bad book looks like. If it turns out to be a great read, then great – I’ll have found a gem. Win-win.

As it turns out, it was neither good nor bad; it was okay. So win-lose… ?

What I liked:
The message – I really liked the message. It’s all about healing broken relationships. And how relationships can only be healed when I experience a change of heart. When my cynicism is melted away and a warmth takes hold of me once again. It’s about bridging the gap between You and I. It’s about learning to communicate our most deeply withheld feelings. Feelings we choose to avoid most of the time, often through consumption – of food, media, experiences. But sometimes these selfsame means of consumption can act as a mirror, in which we see our own lives reflected – we see ourselves in the characters and in their relationships to one another. I really wanted that to be the case for me with this book, but it just didn’t click for me. Which leads me on to my next point.

What I didn’t like:
Mostly, the execution. The book I read is an English translation of a book adaptation of a Japanese theatre production. So no doubt some of the nuances of the author’s writing style were lost along the way. But since I chose to take the book on its merits, I have to say the writing was poor. It didn’t flow well. It felt stop-start, and it could have done with a fair bit of trimming down. There were so many unnecessary details that prevented me from empathising with the characters and engaging with their world (a bit like a Tolkien book – sorry!).

The verdict:
Although I didn’t like the execution, there is still a lot to appreciate here. Based off the books I’ve read by Kazuo Ishiguro and Haruki Murakami, as well as all the anime I’ve watched over the years, I have often been struck by the piercing clarity with which the Japanese are able to describe the vulnerability and complexity of intimate relationships, in a way that most Western authors can’t. And this book is no exception to that trend.

The more I think about it, the more I see that this book has a lot of potential, which makes it such a shame that its prose let it down. I’ll blame the translation on this one, until I learn Japanese (probably never in this life; my weeaboo days are far behind me).

On the whole, I’m grateful that I read this book and didn’t write it off just based off the Goodreads reviews (which I probably would have done). It reminded me to look inwards, rather than outwards, in trying to heal and improve my relationships, because I need to be the one to reach out. And that’s a pretty big win.

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