After hearing and seeing so many great reviews of this book I thought it was about time I got a copy and read it!
What would you change if you could go back in time?
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.
In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.
But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .
Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story – translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot – explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?
Set in a small cafe in Tokyo, we are introduced to it’s staff and a number of regular customers. All very different people but all with a trouble or sadness that they each carry.
This cafe is also known to have a remarkable feature. One that has almost become a legend. At a seat of one of the tables sits a ghost, reading her book and sipping her coffee. We don’t know who she is, but we possibly do learn somewhat of how she came to be there. Once a day, and of her own timing, she gets up to go to the bathroom. At this point someone else can sit there and ‘time travel’, back to see anyone they choose, as long as that person has also, at some point in their life, visited the cafe.
There are a number of rules however, and these are explained at the beginning of the book. One of them is that even if you do travel back in time you can not change the present. The restrictions imposed on the time traveller at first seemed pointless. If it doesn’t change anything, what’s the point. But after the first story the realisation the time traveller gets from her experience makes an interesting, moving and nice touch and I thought then that this idea was a good one for the direction of the book to take.
I really liked the fact that it is set just in the cafe. You really get a feel for the place and can picture it very easily in the mind’s eye. I did struggle with the translation, but that’s my own personnel problem, I read a number of translated novel, but do find French and Japanese ones difficult as I find the language used quiet abrupt and I loss a lot of the emotion because of that. There are also a lot of characters in this book and it did need some concentration to remember who was who. Once I found out that this was originally a play however, it’s structure did seem to make more sense.
Wonderful small touches throughout give this book added depth. The different ways to make the coffee and how different customers prefer one to the other, the greeting each time someone walks in and different small cultural references, all give a wonderful atmosphere to this short but powerful read. I found Kei’s story very moving, the outcome of Fumiko’s story interesting, but didn’t find Kohtake’s and Fusagi’s tale believable enough. From my own personnel experience of dementia I thought that if Fusagi no longer remembered his wife it would be unlikely that he would still be able to find his way to a cafe and order and pay for coffee. I would have also loved to have found out who the ghost was!
So in conclusion there were some parts of the book I really enjoyed but some bits not so much. I loved the sound of the synopsis and really wanted to love it, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Saying that I’m glad I read it, as it made a nice change to read something different and a little quirky, plus, at such a short book it’s easy to add to the list and I would recommend you give it a go if you haven’t already done so.