Recently, I’ve been trying to read more books from around the world, and I’ve ended up finding some which I’m now constantly recommending to people. If you’re interested in travel, want to find books from authors outside of the UK, or even if you’re just looking for something new to read in lockdown, here are a couple of my suggestions!
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (tr. Geoffrey Trousselot)
First on my list is Before the Coffee Gets Cold, a Japanese novel which tells the story of a small Tokyo café where customers have the opportunity to travel back in time. Published in 2015, the tale follows four people in their quest to revisit the past, and we join them in their tasks: “to confront the lover who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has begun to fade, see their sister one last time, and mee the daughter they never got the chance to know”.
The café has one crucial rule: every customer must return to the present before the coffee in their cup gets cold. But there are other restrictions too – people wishing to travel back in time must sit in one particular seat; and once in the past, they must not leave the café. Perhaps most agonising of all is that the customers must understand that no matter what they say or do in the past, nothing will change the present.
This is, in part, a story of ‘what ifs’, missed chances and broken hearts; but, like any good tale, it teaches important lessons too. Make peace with your past. Don’t dwell on what could have been. Be open and honest with people. And if you love them, take every chance you get to tell them so.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a really thought-provoking tale of the importance of family, love and forgiveness, and it has stuck with me since I first read it a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful book (in both story and looks, for anyone who loves a pretty cover) and a short read, so if you’re looking to try something new then give Kawaguchi’s novel a go!
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Published in 2018 by Nigerian-British author Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a dark but funny story that I couldn’t help but tear through. It isn’t the classic murder mystery you might expect from the title, but it had me hooked from the beginning.
It has to be said: the title lays the book’s plot pretty bare. Korede, a nurse, has to deal with the never-ending drama caused by her younger sister, Ayoola, who has killed three of her ex-boyfriends (allegedly) in self-defence. Korede always steps in to help her out, but things get complicated when she realises that Ayoola has set her eyes on a doctor at the local hospital – a doctor who Korede is in love with.
We see our protagonist battle with decision making throughout this novel; weighing the importance of family ties against doing what is right, and realising that her love for one person may mean sacrificing another. This comedic story deals with the Korede’s internal struggle in a really honest and human way, while giving a moving insight into one family’s tumultuous life in Nigeria.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
My final recommendation is probably my favourite read on this list. Travels with Charley is a detailed, mainly factual account of John Steinbeck’s road trip around the contiguous United States with his dog, Charley. He made the trip – in which he covered almost 10,000 miles – in 1960, reportedly to fulfil his desire to see his country properly, one last time before he died.
Since it was published in 1962, Travels with Charley has come to be viewed as a pillar of American travel literature, and it’s clear to see why; after reading it, you’ll either be left with a feeling of having tagged along with Steinbeck and Charley on their adventure, or a strong desire to pack a bag and see the world immediately.
With international travel looking pretty unlikely this year, if you’re going to be spending your summer in the US, this might provide inspiration for places to go and see. Even if you don’t live there, reading Travels with Charley is bound to pique your interest in discovering and exploring your own country. It’s also the closest thing to an autobiography that Steinbeck ever published, so it’s an interesting read for fans of him as an author and a person, as well as for those interested in travel literature in general.