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?
Series5 primary books
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a 5-book series with 5 primary works first released in 2015 with contributions by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Geoffrey Trousselot, and 川口俊和.
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This book was delightful. I read it because someone in my feed gave it a good rating, and it turned out to be the magical realism I needed right now. I'm looking forward to reading book #2. (Everything else I wanted to say was a spoiler!)
Read for our workplace book club of June (I'm a bit early). Based on a simple idea (being able to go back in time but inside a very strict set of rules quite different from usual), in a very small café setting, the author is able to draw several beautiful stories of the people going around, their lives, their wins and losses. It gives a big time for reflection and introspection and made me shed some tears.
“The first rule was: The only people you can meet while in the past are those who have visited the cafe. This would usually defeat the purpose of going back. Another rule was: There is nothing you can do while in the past that will change the present.”
Imagine there's a café in your neighborhood. A small, basement café barely large enough to hold a few booths, a few tables, and a counter. This café, though, has a bit of a poorly-kept secret, in that if you sit at one of the seats in the café, you can travel back in time. You can't leave the seat, you can't change the past, and you have to drink the coffee put in front of you before it gets cold, but you can travel back in time. What would you change? Obviously you'd be limited to people in the café, or people who have visited the café, but things can still be said, people you've visited with can be revisited, and, essentially, closure could be had.
This short book consists of four short stories set inside this café involving visitors and staff members who each discover a need to revisit the past. The four stories are different, but they're the same in that each person reaches some form of closure they need to move on in their lives.
I think I was expecting something different from the description here, and ultimately I was left with vague dissatisfaction, but not enough to really quit reading. You never find out some key points of how or why you can time travel in this café or any consequences for people who break the rules. The stories told were each nice enough, but I didn't really feel moved by any of them. I think I liked the second story the best and the fourth story the least, if we're keeping track.
It's not a bad read, and very quick, so don't let my vague annoyance dissuade you from giving it a try. I honestly wish I had a café (any café, with or without time travel) that was as cozy as this on sounds in my own neighborhood.
The language is beautifully spare but the meaning is sweet, contemplative, and all-encompassing.
The lasting feeling is almost Stoic: Focus on what we can change instead of what we can't change.
The Internal and External create change, but it's up to us how to interpret and incorporate that change into ourselves and our lives.
Love this book.
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