Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café – Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)

*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Picador – Pan Macmillan and NetGalleyThe decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time . . .

From the author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold comes Tales from the Cafe, a story of four new customers each of whom is hoping to take advantage of Cafe Funiculi Funicula’s time-travelling offer.

Among some faces that will be familiar to readers of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s previous novel, we will be introduced to:

The man who goes back to see his best friend who died 22 years ago
The son who was unable to attend his own mother’s funeral
The man who travelled to see the girl who he could not marry
The old detective who never gave his wife that gift . . .

This beautiful, simple tale tells the story of people who must face up to their past, in order to move on with their lives. Kawaguchi once again invites the reader to ask themselves: what would you change if you could travel back in time?

This is a quirky series of vignettes, set within the walls of a single café which has a singularly unique attribute… customers can travel back (or forward) in time for the length of time it takes their coffee to cool.

It isn’t as simple as that however, as there is a whole series of rules about what they must and cannot do, not all of which make full logical sense when given some thought. For instance, they cannot change the past, but can give gifts, reassurances and good or bad news, but surely those things MUST change the past! If a man is told his crush becomes his wife, wouldn’t that give him the courage to pursue her and wouldn’t the memory of being told then be part of their courtship story? It is a little bit confusing.

That said, I really don’t think it matters. The ins and outs of the time travel are pretty much irrelevant to the real purpose of the story, which is an emotional exploration of regret, loss, love and forgiveness. Each customer has an emotional wound that they need to cleanse in the past or, in one case, the future. Each encounter provides a measure of peace and sense of closure to the participants.

The individual stories were all very touching, but I did find that with the repetition in themes, they also became a little bit monotonous and the sentimentality began to feel a little bit cloying as a result. The linking story of the café staff (Nagare, Miki and Kuzu) helps to add a different layer to the storyline, but then also slides into a circular pattern as we find out more about Kuzu’s past and the mysterious customer in the special chair.

I did enjoy the insight into Japanese culture and relationships that we got snippets of, and perhaps would have engaged more with the stories if I had read the previous book first? It is an interesting concept and very well-written but the emotional tone was just not quite right for me.

The fifth rule: your stay in the past begins when the coffee is poured and must end before the coffee gets cold. Moreover, the coffee cannot be poured by just anybody; it must be poured by Kazu Tokita.

– Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café

Toshikazu Kawaguchi (in Japanese: 川口 俊 和) was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971. He formerly produced, directed and wrote for the theatrical group Sonic Snail. As a playwright, his works include COUPLESunset Song, and Family Time. The novel Before the Coffee Gets Cold is adapted from a 1110 Productions play by Kawaguchi, which won the 10th Suginami Drama Festival grand prize.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café is available on Amazon right now.


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