Tales from the Cafe: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi.

If you could go back, who would you want to meet?

This is the question asked on the very first page of Tales from the Cafe: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi.

Originally written in Japanese as a play, and translated by Geoffrey Trousselot into English, Before The Coffee Gets Cold is about Cafe Funiculi Funicula and the legend that customers can travel back in time.

Tales From The Cafe is the second of its series, introducing readers to four new customers whom all have a different reason for wanting to travel back in time.

The first book, which I read last year, sees four customers sit in the chair that takes you back to the past – or catapults you into the future. These were:

  • Fumiko who travelled back to meet her boyfriend
  • Kohtake who wanted to speak to her husband
  • Hirai travelled back in time to see her sister
  • Kei – the only one who travels forward in time – to meet her daughter

The sequel sees four new characters looking to take advantage of the time travelling offer. In Before The Coffee Gets Cold: Tales From The Cafe, we meet:

  • The man who goes back to see his best friend who died 22 years ago
  • The son who was unable to attend his own mother’s funeral
  • The man who travelled to see the girl who he could not marry
  • The old detective who never gave his wife that birthday gift

In the clockless, windowless cafe where time appears to stand still, those seeking to return to the past must follow several rules that cannot be broken.

  • You can only visit people in the past that have visited the cafe – if they have never been, you can’t meet them.
  • There is nothing you can do while in the past that will change the present.
  • There is only one seat which allows you to go back in time, but it’s occupied by a ghost. The only time you can sit there is when she goes to the toilet, which happens once a day, but at no set time.
  • The time-traveller cannot move from their seat in the past, or they will be forcibly returned to the present.
  • You must return before the coffee gets cold, by drinking the entire cup – or you will become the ghost in the chair.

Other particulars are that the coffee must be poured by waitress Kazu Tokita, and that if you try to move the ghost from the chair yourself, you’ll be cursed.

A reader might be concerned that Tales From The Cafe is simply a duplicate of Before The Cafe Gets Cold, and you’d be right to think it follows the same structure, with the repetition of those all-important rules each chapter. But Tales From The Cafe delves deeper into the stories of those we are most intrigued by, like Kazu and the ghost of the cafe. We learn of their stories, how Kazu came to be the pourer of the coffee, and who the woman in the chair went back to visit.

The theatrical novel reminds us to never leave the words we wish to say unspoken, and not to let the mistakes of our past affect the happiness of our future. The moral of the story is that we are all worthy of our own happiness – we just have to allow ourselves the opportunity to be so.

Life-affirming, compelling and comforting, Tales From The Cafe offers closure on all the questions you asked about Before The Coffee Gets Cold, and invites the reader to ponder what they might have done differently if offered the opportunity to go back and change something.

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