REVIEW: Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

In brief: More about the visitors to Funiculi Funicula, a small café that has the ability for patrons to return to the past for a short time.

The good: Wonderfully touching stories.

The not-so-good: I read this so quickly!

Why I chose it: Enjoyed the original Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

Year: 2020 (2017 in the original Japanese)

Pages: 192

Translator: Geoffrey Trousselot

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: Tokyo, Japan

Rating: 9 out of 10

Last year’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold was a delightful emotional read. Naturally, I couldn’t resist reading a second book about the visitors to the mysterious café that offers patrons the ability to travel back in time. While I already knew the café’s ‘secret’, it didn’t change my enjoyment of the stories of the customers.

Tales from the Café contains four more stories of customers who have come to the café wanting to travel back in time for various reasons. One man wants to see his best friend and tell him that his daughter is about to be married. A retired detective wants to give his wife a birthday present. The son who didn’t attend his mother’s funeral wants to see his mum one more time. A man wants to check if his one true love is doing well. The reasons behind the visits are complex and guiding each customer through the rules of time travel and the ritual of pouring the coffee – but returning to the present before the coffee gets cold. Those who have read the first book will be familiar with these rules, but they are explained for those new to the world of Funiculi Funicula. I suspect that those who have read the first novel will gets more out of this book, simply because they are familiar with the regular/recurring characters, such as Kazu, Nagare and Fumiko.

Once again, the story balances the sweet and emotional, occasionally humorous as the café patrons work through guilt, loss and ultimately a form of resolution after their trip back in time. The addition of Miki, the 6-year-old child of Nagare adds some light relief as she questions people about their reasons and generally acts like a cute, occasionally annoying child. This time the reader finds out more about Kazu, the waitress and some of her relationships. There is also a little more to the coffee pouring ritual and its history than previously thought, which was a nice touch. Being familiar with the gentle, occasionally quirky feel to this story made the reading even more cosy this time round. I was concerned that it may not have had the same magic as the first book, but it’s even more powerful this time round. I certainly wouldn’t complain if there was another volume!

Overall, Tales from the Café is a comforting, heart-warming read that takes the reader away from the real world and into the care of the café. It’s a story to enjoy – and don’t be concerned if your coffee gets cold because you’re distracted by the book.

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