Author(s): Toshikazu Kawaguchi
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 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?
Having a conversation over coffee may be an everyday occurrence, but what if that conversation is a pivotal moment in time or in the relationship between two people? How often have we found ourselves in trivial chatter when what we really what to discuss is something a little bit difficult or something embarrassing or a situation that might make us vulnerable? Before the Coffee Gets Cold is not a self-help book for communication! It’s a charming novel from Japanese playwright Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Funiculi Funicula is a basement cafe in Tokyo — unassuming, small and altogether unremarkable except for a bit of urban folklore. It’s rumoured that in this cafe, one has the ability to travel back in time. But… there are rules! You must sit in a particular seat. You cannot change the future. You can only meet people who have also visited the cafe. And there is a time limit — you need to come back before the coffee gets cold. Dividing the book into four distinct stories, ‘The Lovers’, ‘Husband and Wife’, ‘The Sisters’ and ‘Mother and Child’, Kawaguchi touches on abandonment, illness, death and love. These emotional moments are played out with humour and lightness — a charm — that keeps the stories from being bogged down in tragedy. Yet the lives of these cafe visitors are not frivolous, and their conversations are sometimes feisty, confronting or upsetting. The meeting that Fumiko replays with her boyfriend Goro is revealing; that Kohtake has with her husband Fusagi, surprising; that Hirai insists on with her sister Kumi, dramatic; and Kei with her child, intense. In a 100-year-old cafe a specially brewed coffee served in a particular cup from a white kettle, if you sit in a specific seat at this table only, may take you where you need to be, through time, to reveal a deeper understanding of yourself or a loved one. It’s not surprising that this book was a best-seller in Japan, and it originated as a stage play. Add to this the lives, quirks and relationships of the cafe owners, the manager — the enigmatic Kazu — and the regulars who pass through, you have an enchanting, approachable novel with a quirky sensibility.