Published by Picador
Publication date – 19 September 2020
Source – own copy
Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot
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 . . .
In a little basement cafe, tucked away in a Tokyo side street, the unprepossessing decor hides a not very well kept secret. Urban legend has it that you can travel back in time. There are rules, of course, but those wishing to take a trip back to the past are willing to do whatever it takes to see a loved one again.
There are four cafe patrons who wish to travel back in time. One wants to see a boyfriend before he leaves, another her sister before she dies. A wife wants to see her husband before illness ravages his mind and a fourth wants to see the daughter she never knew. Whilst each story is distinct, there are threads that link them together so one flows into the other. The stories are bitter sweet, but then each is reflecting back on something that is lost, each visit bringing love or comfort but also the renewed sense of loss.
Because the book is centred on the cafe there are few scenes outside the setting, the ones that are mentioned are through reflections of the characters. This adds to the dream like quality of the novel, there is something slightly magical about the tone. This perhaps is to be expected given the topic is of time travel but the quiet cafe found in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo seem like a magical thing in itself. Somewhere quiet to escape the madness, with only a few venturing to travel one step further.
The book is based on a script originally written by the author and it is easy to see those foundations. There is one setting, limited characters who all have a part to play in each trip back into the past.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is not just about time travel, that’s not even the main storyline. It is about humans handle the loss, physically or mentally, of a loved one. It is about regrets, of the need to ensure that you have done the right thing and that letting go can also be an act of love.
So what does happen if you don’t drink the coffee before it gets cold? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
An interesting, gentle tale.
About the author
Toshikazu Kawaguchi was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971. He formerly produced, directed and wrote for the theatrical group Sonic Snail. As a playwright, his works include COUPLE, Sunset Song, and Family Time. The novel Before the Coffee Gets Cold is adapted from a 1110 Productions play by Kawaguchi, which won the 10th Suginami Drama Festival grand prize.