This Japanese novel about a cafe where customers have the ability to travel back in time is a heart-warming story. Kawaguchi sets up the idea of time traveling in an underground coffee shop, where only one person can sit in a specific chair at a specific time. Once in another time, the timer traveler has to drink a cup of coffee before it gets cold, hence the book’s title. The book describes four time-traveling stories, with each time traveler having some connection to the coffee shop. The first story is that of a woman who wants one moment to speak with her loved one before they ended their long relationship on poor terms, the second is that of a loyal customer who wants to go back in time to give his wife a love letter, the third is of a restaurant owner who wished to see her sister one last time, and the last is of a mother traveling into the future to meet her unborn daughter.
Kawaguchi takes the idea of time travel to ask what someone would do or say if given a chance to travel back in time, intertwining topics such as Alzheimer’s disease and the tragic deaths of the people closest to them. I found a common theme across all four stories that, especially under the time constraint, the time traveler was first lost for words, did not say as much as they planned to, and then felt a sense of closure as they returned back to their time. But it was what the time traveler did with their experience afterward in their current time that had more of an impact on me than the people’s experiences in an alternate time reality. As Kawaguchi puts it, “no matter what difficulties people face, they will always have the strength to overcome them. It just takes heart. And if the chair can change someone’s heart, it clearly has its purpose.” The four time travelers each had their own experiences and motivations for time traveling (some held on to the belief that they could change the past to change the present, which did not work). Still, in the end, they chose to make the most out of their reality, which I believe is such an optimistic and encouraging message to convey.
While the writing style was quite inconsistent with sometimes large chunks of info dumps, long monologues, and actions of the characters being all too similar to that of stage directions for a play, the whole premise of the plot made the book enjoyable. I recommend this book to readers who are seeking a quick read, but one whose message lingers far after they have finished it.
Review by Lecia Sun