Book Review – Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book Review – Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was incredibly excited the moment that I found out that there was going to be a sequel to Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold. It was one of my favourite books of 2019. In fact it was number 2. Only beaten by the exquisite comedy of Richard Ayoade‘s examination of the film View From the Top. The first book, adapted from Kawaguchi’s play of the same name, was such an unusual but engaging book. I had never read anything quite like it, so getting the chance to revisit his work was most welcome. It was released at an great moment and really helped pull me out of my reading slump. After taking a week or so to finish The Thursday Murder Club, it only took me a couple of nights to get through this. Hopefully, this means I’m back to normal. Definitely a good thing because my non-review bookish posts ideas aren’t exactly inspiring.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi first introduced us to the Cafe Funiculi Funicula. We met the staff and the customers who frequented the little café that is hidden away in a Tokyo back alley. Within this café, customers can get a decent cup of coffee and get the chance to travel through time. The only catch? They have to follow a strict set of rules and they won’t be able to change the past. Provided they return to the present before their coffee gets cold, a person would get the chance to meet someone from their past or future provided that arrived at the café at right time. So, who would you visit if you had the chance?

In his first book, Kawaguchi told the story of four patrons of the cafe who decided to use its special powers. There was the woman who went back to confront the man who abandoned her, the wife who went to see her husband before he lost his memory, the woman who wanted to speak to her sister one last time, and the mother who wanted a chance to meet the daughter she would never know. These stories explored human nature, love and desire.

The follow-up is much the same and treats us to four new stories of time travel. We meet the man who wanted to revisit his best friend 22 years after his death, the son who missed his mother’s funeral, the man who wanted to see the girl he was unable to marry and the detective who wanted to give his wife a birthday present. We also see how much life has changed for the employees of the café. We learn more about the people we met the first time around and get even more insight into how the magic works.

About seven years have passed since the first book but the ritual remains the same. Once every day, the ghostly figure that haunts the café gets up from her chair. Once it is free, anyone is welcome to sit in it and travel to a time of their choice. In order to meet the person they desire, they have to be sure that they will be at the café. This is fine if you’re going to the past but creates problems if you want to go forwards. Once they have travelled through time, the customer cannot leave their seat, they cannot change the past, and they must return before their coffee gets cold. If they don’t drink their coffee in time, they will be doomed to take the place of the ghostly figure.

Anyone who has read the first book will be all too familiar with the rules but, for obvious reasons, the sequel has to reintroduce everything. Although, Kawaguchi doesn’t spend too long doing this. The rules are mentioned at the start of each story but that is all part of the rhythm of the ritual. It was the same in the last book and adds to the tone. In my opinion, it ends up being quite relaxing and the familiarity gets you prepared for what’s to come. You feel as though you are part of something ancient and magical. All of the details must be correct and every step must be carried out. Kawaguchi manages to discuss the rules every time without making it seem repetitive.

I enjoyed the writing of the first and enjoyed how much it felt like a play. I think the second book has a slightly more natural feel but still has that slightly intimate feel to it. The book still feels very Japanese and a little stoic. Yet there is plenty of sentimentality within these pages. This isn’t a book about time travel but four stories about people. It discusses relationships, love, regret, and life. The four people all want to sit in the chair so they can find the happiness they have lost. Even though they know that nothing will change, they hope that one final meeting with someone they love will give them the closure that they need. It’s a beautiful book and I just want more.

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