REVIEW: Before Your Memory Fades by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

In brief: Café Donna Donna in Hakodate also has the ability to transport customers to the past – as long as they return before the coffee gets cold. Here, four customers want to return to the past for different reasons.

The good: Lovely to see the same café staff again.

The not-so-good: Some of the stories were quite sad.

Why I chose it: Love the Before the Coffee Gets Cold series!

Year: 2022 (in Japanese: 2018)

Pages: 237

Translator: Geoffrey Trousselot

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: Hakodate, Japan

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

In the latest book in the Before the Coffee Gets Cold series, the action moves from the small, hidden café in Tokyo to a café in northern Japan with a beautiful view of the harbour. But fear not, the staff are the same (with one new addition) and the café has the ability to send customers back to the past for a short period. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of this sweet, uplifting yet at times very sad series!

You could start reading this series with this book, although I would recommend reading in order. We catch with the regular characters some time after the last book, so it’s nice to find out what’s been happening. The rules of going back to the past are explained more succinctly, almost mockingly of their rigidity which is different to the previous books, where they were explored more thoroughly. Still, the premise is the same – the stories of various customers who come to the café with the aim of going back to the past. There is the young woman who is angry at her parents for leaving her an orphan, the famous comedian in hiding wanting to speak to his dead wife to tell her of his achievement and the sister consumed by grief at her sibling’s death. Even one of the café employees goes back in time to tell his childhood friend something very important. There is also another theme running through the book – a question book about what you would do if the world was ending tomorrow. The questions aren’t easy, tackling themes of love, infidelity and debt amongst others. But it gives some insight into each of the characters and how they think. Plus, it gives page time to Sachi, a very inquisitive young girl who has just learned how to pour the magical coffee that sends someone into the past.

The front of the book has a chart of how all the characters are interconnected. I didn’t expect to need it, but I did. Some of the stories are a little similar this time round, with multiple characters (all women) experiencing short, tragic and fatal illnesses. (Also, I just want to add that bone marrow transplants don’t require surgery – it’s like having a drip hooked up and is incredibly uneventful and lacking in drama. This irked me and detracted away from the poignancy of the story.) Yes, the stories were sad and going back in time was bittersweet, but I did feel that this book was rushed in comparison to the first two. I would have liked to know more about the mysterious owner of Café Donna Donna, Yukari, who ran off to America to help a boy find his parents. She seems like a real livewire, yet the café staff weren’t overly happy with her even though the customers loved her.

I do think this series still has legs as it’s ultimately uplifting. I just think there could have been a bit more variety in the stories told.

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