“Drink the coffee before it goes cold.” With these words of warning, the waitress at Café Funiculi Funicula, Kazu Tokita sends her customer on a tryst with the past, in Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s powerfully emotional and introspective novel. An impeccably crafted work, “Before the Coffee Gets Cold” is a paean to love, fortitude, courage and guilt. The novel concept of time travel is just a peripheral accoutrement to the primary objective of human sentiment and demonstrativeness.
Kei and Nagare Tokita are owners of an ordinary, unassuming and non-decrepit basement café. Small in size and smaller in glitz and razzmatazz, Funiculi Funicula is famous for an Urban Legend attached to it. It is a Café that permits time-travel. However, a set of seemingly ridiculous rules prevent the Café from being flocked to by intrepid and eager customers wanting to either go back or surge forward in time. The quintuple set of problematic rules go something like this:
- The time traveler, cannot meet people who haven’t visited the café;
- The present cannot be changed irrespective of what the time traveler does after going back in time;
- The time traveler must occupy a particular seat that takes him or her into the past or future;
- The time traveler cannot move from the seat that he is she is perched on throughout the duration of the time travel;
- There is a time limit attached to the time travel itself. The time traveler should drink up a cup of coffee placed before him/her before it goes cold; and
The bizarre and Byzantine concoction of the rules are made even more exasperating by an added imposition. Time traveling is restricted to just one escapade per person. In other words, once you have elected to travel back in time, you cannot utilize yet another opportunity to do the same. But even these regressive rules are no match for a heart that is lachrymose and a mind that is restless in perpetuity. Mankind, as a breed is always looking to unwind deeds of the past with a view to making the future tolerable. There is a perpetual cycle of recrimination, repentance, remorse, regret and revision. Every act cries out for a closure. Hence Kei and Nagare have no choice but to entertain and accommodate beseeching pleas for salvation.
Whether it be the plight of the dizzyingly beautiful Fumiko Kiyokawa who is torn apart after her boyfriend goes away to the United States to achieve his personal aspiration of working for a gaming company, or the owner of a snack bar, Yaeko Hirai who wants to atone for the unspeakable outcome caused to her sibling by her deliberate neglect, the ‘time-travel seat’ at Café Funiculi Funicula is a beacon of potential hope and solace.
Once in a way, there comes a book reading which you are transported into a state of stillness and contemplation. A part of such contemplation would also be a nagging regret that someone beat you to the idea. Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s book is one of them. Personally, “Before the Coffee Gets Cold”, has been the best book that I have read this year. It looks highly unlikely that I would have a change of either opinion or heart within the next remaining month and a few days when the year finally ends. It would be remiss not to mention the simply lambent translation from the original to English by Geoffrey Trousselot.