Before the Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Book report #8 (2023)

Before the Coffee Gets Cold, by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Pub 2015.
Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot, Pub 2019.

Another Christmas gift, I read about one of the later books in this series as being an interesting and light read, so decided to start at the beginning. In this novel in four parts, we visit the Funiculi Funicula cafe, in a dark back alley in Tokyo. Although never overrun with customers – in fact, there are only two new customers in the entire story – the staff and the regulars provide a quirky and interesting tableau. The cafe has a not-so-secret magic: under the right circumstances and with the assistance of the staff, one can travel to another time. However, this time travel has several rules, many of which make the experience difficult and unsatisfactory for many. The biggest rule: you must return from your time travel before the coffee gets cold.

In each of the four stories, someone travels to another time to have a do-over of a conversation, to learn more about a past situation, to say farewell, and to say hello. Each story is stand-alone, but with the same setting and characters, so it is truly a novel. It is based on a stage play, which likely accounts for the static setting and characters and the emphasis on dialogue in the novel. Each story is also tragic and hopeful, sad and happy all at once, with more than a few tear-jerking and laugh-out-loud moments. The proprietors of the café have a certain timelessness, as does the café itself, which add to the mystique of the place.

Some of the characters are over-the-top dramatic and quirky, which reminded me occasionally of the stories and characters I’ve seen in Korean and Japanese films in the past decade. People yelling when it’s not necessary, lame misunderstandings based in “honour”, and some outlandish styles of dress. This book has been made into a film, so I’m going to try to track that down to see if I’m right about that style.

This was a delightful light read, and I will eventually read through the rest of the series.

Fate: I’ll likely hang on to it for a while, and maybe pass it to someone who is looking for a nice light story.

7 – a debut novel
9 – been made into a film
13 – set in a place I’ve never been (Japan)
21 – a book translated from another language
24 – a book about food (nothing happens without the coffee)
25 – a new author to me
27 – a gift
36 – non-mainstream
37 – part of a series

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