by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)
The next in my occasional forays into the works of non-English writers introduced me to a world of fantasy unlike any I have encountered before. Japanese writer Toshikazu Kawaguchi certainly knows how to spin a tale and manages to squeeze a lot of story into the book’s 192 pages.
This is his second novel, the first, “Before the Coffee Gets Cold”, was adapted from an award-winning play. I haven’t read the first book yet but don’t feel I have missed anything as this is fairly self-contained.
It is actually a collection of four short stories all set in the Funiculi Funicula cafe, tucked away down a Tokyo side street. The cafe boasts not only good coffee and company, but also a unique opportunity for customers to travel in time. There are some very strict rules to this particular service, the most important that you must return to the present before the coffee gets cold.
For each of the four customers whose stories are told here, there are deeply personal reasons for wanting to travel in time. They may be unable to change what has or will happen, but they are each drawn to the opportunity this experience offers to reassure themselves and the ones they love.
I won’t lie, at first I was not sure I was going to enjoy this book. It took a little while for me to come to terms with the premise and the characters, but once I did I was hooked. Toshikazu has a simple and direct style of writing that gives the story a real pace and the characters are well defined and likeable.
Although each of the tales is self-contained, the relationships between the characters and their individual arcs bind the collection together impeccably.
Like most other translations I struggled with the character names, but thankfully the publishers include a “relationship map” that I found invaluable.