In cafe Funiculi Funicula, there is more than meets the eye. I’m not talking about the persistent sepia hue in the cafe or how the cafe is seemingly always the right temperature. I am talking about how patrons can, if they wish, travel back to a moment in time. To travel back in time, a patron must follow a series of rules, each more stringent than the last, and visualise the moment in time they want to visit.
The rules imposed on those wishing to travel back in time are so difficult to follow that one magazine reporter said that it was pointless to go back in time. I will not spoil the rules, but I will tell you one that the title hints at: you must come back before the coffee gets cold. You cannot stay back in time forever or even for an hour. You have a few minutes to do what it is that you want to do.
Before the coffee gets cold follows the lives of four people who wish to travel back in time. Everyone has their own motives. One person wants to go back in time to tell their boyfriend not to move to another country. Another person wants to go back and get a letter from their husband that he never handed to her. In each story, I got to know the characters and their struggles, and their feelings of regret about their past decisions. To want to go back in time to rectify a mistake means that the mistake must be personally significant.
Alongside each story is a feeling of community cultivated by the characters who run the cafe. There is Nagare, the withholding gentleman who, in his heart, is loving and kind. There is Kei and Kazu, too. With each new customer, a “clang-dong” of a bell sounds, and one of the staff members says “Hello! Welcome!” It is this friendly vibe that made me feel like I was actually in cafe Funiculi Funicula when I was reading this book. I felt like I was present when the staff members were sharing the rules or when main characters came in distress.
As I write, I am reminded of how life is made up of a series of moments. Some decisions we make are unchangeable. But this book reminds me of something more than that: we can use our past experiences to inform who we become in the future. This was a common theme throughout the book. All those who travelled back in time used what they learned to become better people. The wife who went back in time to see her husband developed a new affection for him.
While each chapter told a separate story, the whole book was bound together by the development of the main characters. There was some healthy narratives about coffee, such as how one cafe staff members brews with a vacuum pot whereas another uses the electric coffee machine. I saw the friendliness of the cafe staff, how they look out for each other, and, later, I learned that there was a special relationship between two of the staff.
If you’re looking for a good fiction read, I’d recommend this book. No knowledge of coffee is necessary. I invite you to figuratively walk into cafe Funiculi Funicula in your mind, take up a table, and listen to all of the conversations that go on, all through the medium of this book.
I found out after writing this review that there is in fact a sequel to this book, which I swiftly ordered.