A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
By Toshikazu Kawaguchi
272 pp. Hanover Square Press. $20.

I can’t remember now where I’d first heard about this book, but when I did, I knew I had to read it.

A Japanese novel about a cafe that allows its patrons to travel through time? Come on! What’s not to love?

I’ve always been fascinated at the idea of being able to travel back in time (for whatever reason, traveling forward in time doesn’t interest me nearly as much) but who isn’t, really? Just imagine what you could do! What you could see!

Of course, there would be issues … for example, if you happened to travel back to the Middle Ages, people would take one look at you and probably burn you as a witch. So yeah, having some degree of protection while time traveling would be pretty key.

Now, like any good time travel tale, there are some rules governing the way time travel works at the cafe Funiculi Funicula. Many rules, to be honest, some of which are rather annoying and altogether quite inconvenient.

The main rule is there in the title itself — to return you have to gulp down the coffee in front of you before it goes cold and, yes, it has to be coffee (sorry, tea drinkers). And if the coffee goes cold? You’ll turn into a nasty, ghostly thing, forever “haunting” the cafe. So yeah, don’t get too swept away in the emotion of your visit to the past — or the future.

Reading this, though, it’s hard not to get swept away in the emotion of it. No, it isn’t Shakespeare, but it isn’t the Hallmark Channel either.

Considering all the last year and a half have brought us — what the past six years have brought, really — I think we all deserve a little light literature. Besides, it’s from Japan! Just think how worldly and cool you’ll sound when you tell people about the Japanese time travel novel you’re reading …

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