Set in the heart of Tokyo, “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi transports readers to the enchanting café Funiculi Funicula, a place where time and space intertwine in the most unexpected ways.
This novel, originally published in Japanese in 2015 and later translated into English in 2019 by Geoffrey Trousselot, takes us on a journey through the lives of those who dare to traverse the delicate threads of time within this mystical café’s walls.
The Magical Setting
Funiculi Funicula, a café established in 1874, is no ordinary coffee shop.
Hidden in a basement and illuminated by dim sepia lamps, it’s a place where clocks show incorrect times, and the modern world’s rush fades into a timeless ambiance.
The café’s unique charm lies in a particular seat from which patrons can travel through time while sipping a special brew of coffee.
The Rules of Time Travel
Time travel in Funiculi Funicula comes with its own set of strict rules.
Travelers can only journey back to events within the café and meet individuals who have or will visit it.
The opportunity arises just once a day, when a ghostly patron temporarily vacates the seat. Crucially, these temporal escapades don’t alter the present but provide new perspectives on it.
The café is run by chef Nagare Tokita, his lively wife Kei, and the mysterious waitress Kazu, who oversees the coffee’s ceremonial preparation.
The Heartfelt Stories:
- “The Lovers” – Fumiko Kiyokawa longs to change her boyfriend Goro’s decision to move to America. She discovers that altering the past is impossible, but her journey reveals deeper truths about their relationship, including Goro’s insecurities and a promise of hope.
- “Husband and Wife” – A regular patron, nurse Kohtake, seeks a forgotten letter from her husband suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her travel to the past unearths unexpected revelations and reaffirms her dedication to their marriage, amidst the poignant reality of memory loss.
- “The Sisters” – In this emotionally charged narrative, Hirai wrestles with guilt over her sister Kumi’s untimely death. Her journey back in time unveils Kumi’s unspoken love and aspirations, leading Hirai to embrace her familial responsibilities.
- “Mother and Child” – Kei, the café’s co-owner, faces a heart-wrenching decision regarding her pregnancy and fragile health. Her accidental 15-year journey into the future brings her face-to-face with her teenage daughter, Miki, offering a bittersweet mix of sorrow, gratitude, and closure.
A Journey of Self-Discovery
Each story in “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is a mix of human emotions, weaving together themes of love, regret, and reconciliation.
The novel invites readers to ponder life’s fleeting moments and the choices that shape our destinies. It’s a touching reminder that while we can’t change the past, we can find solace and understanding in the journey through it.
As the coffee brews and the clock ticks in Funiculi Funicula, each character’s journey becomes a testament to the enduring power of human connection, and the timeless quest for understanding and acceptance in the complex web of life.
Chef at Funiculi Funicula, Nagare is known for his culinary skills. He contributes to the café’s unique atmosphere and is part of the heartwarming tapestry that makes the café more than just a coffee shop.
Nagare’s wife and a cheerful presence in the café, Kei adds to the warm and inviting environment. Despite her personal struggles, including a challenging pregnancy and a weak heart, she embodies resilience and hope.
A young, enigmatic waitress at the café, Kazu plays a crucial role in the time-traveling process. She performs the ritualistic coffee ceremony and often acts as a guide for the time travelers, offering insights and cautionary advice.
In “The Lovers,” Fumiko is a young woman grappling with her relationship’s future. Her journey back in time reveals deeper aspects of her relationship with Goro, teaching her valuable lessons about love, pride, and understanding.
Goro, Fumiko’s boyfriend in “The Lovers,” is characterized by his ambition and insecurities. His decision to move to America and the revelations from the past significantly impact Fumiko’s understanding of their relationship.
Featured in “Husband and Wife,” Kohtake is a nurse and a regular patron of the café. Her time-traveling experience to reconnect with her husband, Fusagi, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, highlights themes of love, devotion, and the impact of illness on relationships.
Kohtake’s husband, Fusagi, grapples with Alzheimer’s disease. His character symbolizes the challenges of memory loss, both for the individual and their loved ones, and plays a central role in Kohtake’s emotional journey.
In “The Sisters,” Hirai deals with guilt and unresolved feelings towards her sister, Kumi. Her time-traveling experience reveals the depth of Kumi’s love and leads Hirai to confront her past decisions and familial responsibilities.
Hirai’s younger sister, Kumi’s character is central to “The Sisters.” Despite her untimely death, her love for Hirai and her desires for their joint future at the family inn significantly impact Hirai’s journey and decisions.
In “Mother and Child,” Miki is Kei’s daughter, whom Kei meets during an accidental trip 15 years into the future. Miki’s character provides a poignant connection to Kei’s fears and hopes as a mother facing a life-threatening condition.
1. The Intricacy of Human Relationships
At its core, Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” delves deep into the labyrinth of human connections.
Each narrative thread in the novel meticulously unravels the complexities inherent in relationships – be it romantic, familial, or platonic.
For instance, in “The Lovers,” the exploration of Fumiko and Goro’s relationship sheds light on the nuanced interplay of love, insecurity, and sacrifice. Similarly, “Husband and Wife” and “The Sisters” poignantly address the themes of dedication in the face of adversity and familial bonds strained by personal choices.
The novel adeptly portrays how relationships evolve over time, influenced by both spoken words and unvoiced sentiments, ultimately emphasizing the delicate yet resilient nature of human connections.
2. The Acceptance of Life’s Impermanence and Change
A recurring theme in the novel is the acceptance of life’s transitory nature and the inevitability of change.
The time-traveling element serves as a metaphor for the characters’ journey towards understanding and accepting life’s imperfections and uncertainties. This theme is particularly evident in “Mother and Child,” where Kei grapples with her health and the future of her unborn child.
Her journey through time is a poignant reflection on the ephemerality of life and the strength found in accepting and embracing change.
Each character’s time-travel experience, though unable to alter the past, brings a newfound appreciation for the present and the inexorable flow of time.
3. The Search for Self-Realization and Closure
The novel is also a profound exploration of the quest for self-realization and the pursuit of closure.
The café’s patrons embark on time-traveling journeys not just to reconnect with others, but also to confront their own fears, regrets, and unfulfilled desires. The narrative beautifully illustrates how confronting past decisions and actions can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself.
In “The Sisters,” Hirai’s journey is as much about reconciling with her sister as it is about confronting her own choices and their consequences.
This theme resonates throughout the book, highlighting the importance of introspection and the courage to face one’s past for personal growth and peace.
“Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is a beautifully crafted narrative that masterfully blends the fantastical element of time travel with profound human experiences.
Kawaguchi’s storytelling is poignant and deeply moving, offering a window into the complexities of human emotions and relationships. The novel’s unique setting and the mystical aspect of time travel serve as a backdrop for exploring universal themes such as love, loss, and the enduring human spirit.
Each story in the book is a delicate exploration of the choices we make and how they shape our lives. This book is not just a series of stories but a heartwarming journey that resonates with anyone who has ever pondered the ‘what ifs’ of their past.