Review – “Before The Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

In my 30 years of life on the Earth, there are numerous instances where I have made mistakes. I regret some and others, I am okay with. The time that I miss the most and regret is the one when my daughter was a teeny tiny baby, and I, a cruel mommy only focussing on her physical suffering to really enjoy those precious moments of her tiny-ness. She is two and a half today, and more than anything, I’d really want to live those days again, when she didn’t know that she was out of my body, yet, reveling in her heavenly aroma and nestling the little bundle she was into the hollow of my body.
Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi had been coming up in my feed almost every day before I decided to give it a shot. The blurb sounded intriguing, time travel, so why not! It was originally a play that was then written as a book. I bought and read the translated version by Geoffrey Trousselot.

The story follows the lives of the owners of a cafe named Funiculi Funicula, in the backstreet of the busy city of Tokyo, and the people who visit it. Run by a brother-sister duo and his wife, the cafe is stuck in time, literally. Not just serving hand-brewed coffee to its customers, the cafe also provides a chance to travel back in time, given that all the conditions are met, both physical and mental.
Four visitors and four stories. A woman whose love of life has left her, and she has been a fool to not hold him back; a wife seeking a letter from her husband, who now is in the grips of an early Alzheimer’s; a sister wanting to meet her sister for one last time; a mother desperate to see her child all grown up and happy, and to apologize for not being there for her.
Strangely, all the visitors who travel in time are women. Was it done on purpose or was it just a coincidence that made it so, who knows! But what one would really like to know is whether they got what they were seeking?

Magical realism, that is what I’d call this story. More than anything else, the concept captured my imagination and pushed me towards the book. An interesting concept with emotional stories, that is what it was. The want to revisit the past, the regret of having done/not done something, the desperation to makes amends, the helplessness of not being able to do anything for their loved ones, and the inability to change the present, the feeling was evident but it didn’t come out the way it should have, all thanks to the most unmagical way of writing I have ever read. I did not like it at all. It was bland, tasteless, and monotonous, like having been written for a stage show and not a reader. Everything was over-explained, the dialogues were robotic, and the whole aura of the prose felt tight. The unimaginative way of connecting every person and their stories to each other didn’t help either. Despite the above-average plotline, this spoiled the book for me. I could not keep my interest alive. Was it the translation that made it so or it is originally so, would I never know? Needless to say, this factor alone put me off after a few pages, and it becomes a task to reach the last page. Laboriously, I managed but it took me two whole weeks which otherwise would have been a matter of a few hours for me. Other than this, there were a few loose ends that kept nagging me and they still do, but as I said, I would never know.
Do I suggest the book? Not very enthusiastically. 


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