Thursday, January 27, 2022

Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

"I wish I hadn't done that. I should have done this instead." It's easy to look back to the past and want to adjust what we did or said to change our present. In fact there are many novels that deal with time travel in just this way. And almost as many that show multiple or alternate realities based on a different decision or action. Most time travel is predicated on aany change in the past changing the present. Why would you ever want to go back to the past if you couldn't change the future? This is the intriguing premise of Toshikau Kawaguchi's Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

There is a tiny cafe in Tokyo where you can travel to the past but no matter what you see or do there, it will not change the present. And there are multiple additional rules to this time travel: you must sit in a specific chair, you cannot leave the cafe, only people who were in the cafe at the time you go back to will be there, you can only stay until your coffee gets cold. Unappealing and restrictive rules for sure, and yet, four different people choose to drink the coffee and return to their pasts. The story is really in the why of this decision rather than the traveling itself since their present won't have changed.

The writing here is simple and quiet, reflective. It feels quintessentially Japanese (at least to this Westerner) and a little old-fashioned, or out of time. Written as a play first, it feels theatrical in an interestingly subdued kind of way and is highly visual and descriptive. The four tales of the time travelers start off connected only through the fact of the setting but in the end they do come together into a more unified story. There is a lot of repetition here in the recitation of the time travel rules and the description of the cafe and the regulars that can be a bit unnecessary, especially in such a short novel. And there's an odd ghost character that seems to only exist to move people into or out of the time travel seat but have no larger importance to the story. Each of the time travelers is filled with a regret or sorrow that drives them to want to go back to the past. Their trips teach them something about themselves and allow them to see that although the present can't and won't change, the future is not so settled and how they choose to live moving forward will make all the difference. At heart, this is a book about love of all sorts, romantic, filial, paternal, familial, and about responsibility, to oneself and to the ones we love. It's perhaps not a book for everyone, just as the time travel that cannot change anything is not for everyone, but it's a lovely, contemplative novel for those with the patience to let it unfold completely.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts