Monday, January 16, 2023

Toshikazu Kawaguchi - Before the Coffee Gets Cold

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 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?

Comment: As it happened with many other readers, I too felt the need to try this surprisingly hyped book. It's a small book, containing very short stories but the premise was great:  a cafe where one could sit and go back in time. I was looking for to see what the hype was all about...

In Tokyo, there's a cafe where it is possible to go back in time while drinking a cup a coffee. Many know about the possibility but very few try it because of the complicated rules. Still, in this spot, many lives become connected and wishes can become reality. The workers and regulars of the cafe are witnesses to everything but the real question is, does the attempt to time travel really compensate or what is gone should be gone?

In this small book, we have four chapters, each one focused on one or two central characters while the secondary characters remain the same and alternate between stories. For instance the main character in the first story will be a secondary one in one of the other stories.

I got the book because it was such a great idea! I tend to like books with time travel and usually the fun in them is to see how authors develop the concept into something believable for the rules/world building presented. Sometimes the actual plots aren't great but the time travel aspect works out and sometimes it's the other way around, but here I as hoping for success, after all the idea of sitting in a chair in a quiet cafe and be able to time travel....

I've read a note in my book's edition that this is a compilation, in book format, of the scenes the author himself created/thought of for a theater play. Knowing this, I think it can make it easier to accept the book's format, since the four chapters seem more like a glimpse of life or a short scene, rather than a plotted and structured story. One of the aspects I found to be more disappointing here was how much difficulty I had in putting myself in the characters' shoes or to be invested in what was happening... the book feels stilted, too static.

Of course, this happens because if one is part of an audience watching a live play, it's all in the gestures, the expressions, the small, contained things and it works pretty well in a small or isolated spot in front of us. However, in a book, where I, as the reader, want to be immersed and feel I'm part of things or that whatever is I'm ready is engrossing, it can feel as if the structure of the story isn't enough.

I won't go into each story, as explaining them is pretty much summarizing at the same time, but I suppose what all have in common, from the saddest one to the most indifferent one, is that going back without the possibility of change might not be that amazing, and the only good outcome is what it can make you feel. Therefore, there's no point in doing it even if it were possible, because what counts is one's intentions while acting on something. If we regret something or wish we could have done it differently, it would only really be worth it if the person we were before would be able to know it... if not, shouldn't regrets or things left unsaid remain here, where we still have those thoughts anyway?

Of course, in the book, each character that travels back wants one more look, one more chance, one more moment... I feel the way to achieve this using the time travel device is interesting but since it doesn't really change anything, it doesn't go from just a very good metaphor, so... from a literary POV, I suppose I understand the appeal, but as a fictional story, it just became frustrating.

All things considered, this was a good enough book, surely entertaining but thinking of other books with the theme, of other books by Japanese authors and any other book to which I could compare any aspect of this one with, makes me feel this didn't go beyond average for me.
Grade: 5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment