Before the Coffee Gets Cold

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Title: Before the Coffee Gets Cold (original title: コーヒーが冷めないうちに)

Writer: Toshikazu Kawaguchi (tr. by Geoffrey Trousselot)

Publishing House: Picador

Date of Publication: September 19th 2019 (first published December 6th 2015)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’The cafe’s name was Funiculi Funicula. It had become famous, with long queues each day, an account of time-travelling. But it wasn’t possible to find anyone who had actually gone back in time, because of the extremely annoying rules that had to be followed. 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.’’ The cafe was asked why that rule existed, but their only comment was that they didn’t know.’’

In a basement, somewhere in a busy neighbourhood in Tokyo, there is a special cafe that will allow you to travel back in time.And in the future under certain circumstances. But it isn’t your run-on-the mill time-travelling. No. You need to follow a set of important rules. You can’t meet any person you want. You cannot alter the present. You have to sit in a particular seat and you must never move from it while in the past. And there is a limit. You must say what you have to say before the coffee gets cold. Or else you will become a ghost in the corner.

So, many would wonder. Why bother to drink the special brew if you can’t alter the present? What’s the use? Well, let’s listen to the stories of the five characters (yes, five, but you need to read the book to discover the fifth…) who travelled back and forth in time to settle their unfinished business.

The Lovers: A young woman falls in love with a young man. So far, so good. But when he decides to accept a job in New York, she realizes that there are certain things that need to be said.

Husband and Wife: A husband who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and a wife who tries to live with the fact that he will soon forget her existence. A letter that needs to find its destination before it;s too late.

The Sisters: Two sisters who loved one another had to go their separate ways when the eldest decided to distance herself from the family business and form her own path. When tragic circumstances arise, travelling in the past and a change of heart may be the only remedy.

Mother and Child: A woman travels to the future to meet her unborn daughter in the most moving moment of the book.

This tender, sensitive novel isn’t about time-travelling as many have come to know it from ridiculous ‘’books’’ that violate all sense of quality. It isn’t about being ‘’married with children as some have stated. It is a story about feelings, about people like you and me, about love and regret and the sadness caused not by the lack of change but by missing the opportunity to unburden your soul. Sometimes you don’t need to change the past or alter the future. Sometimes all you need is to finally say what was left unsaid…

‘’But Kazu still goes on believing that, no matter what difficulties people face, they will always have the strength to overcome them. It just takes heart. And if the chair can change someone’s heart, it clearly has its purpose.

But with her cool expression, she will just say, ‘Drink the coffee before it gets cold.’’