Clang-Dong. Welcome to Funiculi Funicula, a quaint little tucked away café in Tokyo with a remarkable secret. “Several years had passed since the café had its moment of fame because of an urban legend that claimed it could transport people back to the past.”
If you could travel back to the past, would you?
Time travel is a popular trope of speculative fiction. Whether characters are whisked away – by accident or deliberately – to the past or future or an alternate timeline, the “what ifs” of such an adventure create a host of storytelling possibilities. It’s a rather well-trodden path with such famous and well-known examples as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, H. G. Well’s The Time Machine, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Jack Finney’s Time and Again, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Michael Crichton’s Timeline,Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a charming, unique take on the genre. Over the course of one summer, four individuals chose to travel in time, but it’s not a simple journey. There are rules…
The only people one may meet are those who have visited the café. The present won’t change no matter how hard one tries. There’s only one seat that can take its occupant to the past, and they cannot move from it. And there’s a time limit. “The trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.”
Break the rules and you may incur the anger of the ghost who sits in that chair. A woman in a white short-sleeved dress, visible to all, sits quietly in that particular chair reading a book and drinking coffee. Once a day she will leave to go to the restroom allowing one lucky person to travel in time.
The novel is comprised of four overlapping stories. In The Lovers, Fumiko wants to have one last conversation with the man she loves who left her for a job opportunity in America. In Husband and Wife, Fusagi wants to travel back in time to give his wife a letter, but it is his wife who makes the journey to receive it. In The Sisters, Hirai journeys to fulfill her sister’s long-held dream, and in Mother and Child, a mother desires to know if her child is happy.
“Her face was a tearful mess. But it was immediately plain to everyone that these were not tears of sadness.” Before the Coffee Gets Cold isn’t so much about time travel as it is about the human condition and one’s longing for love, happiness, or fulfillment.
Imagine being an extra (or background character) entering the diner of Alice or the bar of Cheers and witnessing all the camaraderie and hijinks that unfold. Though perhaps more serious in tone, the reader enters the café of Funiculi Funicula to witness this extended family of characters as their lives unfold and will both look forward to their story’s resolve and yearn for more.
Release in 2015, Before the Coffee Gets Cold is the debut novel of author Toshikazu Kawaguchi. The novel won the grand prize at the Suginami Drama Festival and has become an international bestseller. A sequel, Tales from the Café, was released in 2020. In 2018, the novel was adapted to film as Café Funiculi Funicula.