What is this about?: This is a book set in a cafe that allows people to time travel to the past, to certain points in their lives. There are rules, of course, and the book follows four different situations in the customers’ lives and the owners’ lives as well. But honestly, it’s so much more than that too because…
What else is this about?: This is about family, love and realising what it takes to come to terms with the present.
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?
Before the Coffee Gets Cold isn’t what I expected at all.
The book revolves four very different stories, all connected together by the cafe and time travel. The stories are tender, and more than a little sad when you begin to understand that there are no happy endings to be had here — not in the conventional sense.
The stories are instead about coming to terms with the present, with the decisions the time travellers have made and living with them. I keep using this word with books I like, so I must have a type (of book and writing) — but the writing is restrained. Almost every interaction happens in the cafe, with the time travellers’ explaining to the owners why they need to time travel, so a lot has to be conveyed very quickly in a very short book — and the author accomplishes it impressively.
The stories that stuck with me is Husband and Wife, which is the story of a relationship between Fusagi and Kohtake. Fusagi has early onset Alzheimer’s and Kohtake takes care of him. The story is a love story of how they met, how they fell in love and a letter that Fusagi wanted to give to her. I won’t go into more detail about the ending, but it is about reminding Kohtake about the strength of their relationship and how to live with what she has lost now.
There is another story of two sisters, separated by years apart and their parents’ expectations. Hirai never wanted to run their parents’ inn, and when she left their home she disappointed them bitterly, and left Kumi, her youngest sister to bear the weight of their expectations. This is a story of regret, as much as it is about hope and going home. It is tender and heartbreaking, and like I said there are no happy endings to be had. Instead, it is a lesson in moving on in the best way that you can.
It’s hard to explain the lessons in this writing, the astute characterisations and how much is conveyed in these book in the smallest of ways.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a quiet book, but it’s not one that will leave my thoughts any time soon.