Tales from the Cafe Book Review


In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time…

From the author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold comes a story of four new customers each of whom is hoping to take advantage of Cafe Funiculi Funicula’s time-travelling offer.

Among some faces that will be familiar to readers of Kawaguchi’s previous novel, we will be introduced to:

The man who goes back to see his best friend who died 22 years ago
The son who was unable to attend his own mother’s funeral
The man who travelled to see the girl who he could not marry
The old detective who never gave his wife that gift…

This beautiful, simple tale tells the story of people who must face up to their past, in order to move on with their lives. Kawaguchi once again invites the reader to ask themselves: what would you change if you could travel back in time?


Almost a full year since reading Before the Coffee Gets Cold I was eager to jump back into Kawagushi’s quiet little cafe. I felt I was ready for new emotionally soothing tales after a stressful period in my life.

Set eight years after the first book, Tales from the Cafe follow four new characters as they travel through time seeking their individual forms of closure. Familiar characters are still present as we learn more about the family who owns the cafe and discover who the woman in white is who sits in that fated chair reading everyday. The stories are new and equally moving as the first book and share new forms of regret, love and anticipation.

I think by now we know that Kawaguchi makes you feel vulnerable to the point he can easily open you up to remove some of that emotional baggage you didn’t know you were holding onto. It’s only when that baggage is leaving you in the form of unbidden tears that you realise it. Whether it be in the form of a loved one’s death, a secret, anxiety about the future, a deep regret or a traumatic experience from the past, each story contains something we can relate to that we can let go of or look at differently.

Each story represents a season and something unique about that season is shown or talked about by the cafe’s customers. One of my favourite quotes is representative of the way spring and winter are like happiness and grief (Spring representing happiness and/or moving on with winter representing grief and regret) and how they are intertwined with the other. There is no exact moment one ends and the other begins.

‘When spring begins, however, cannot be pinpointed to one particular moment. There is no one day that clearly marks when winter ends and spring begins. Spring hides inside winter. We notice it emerging with our eyes, our skin and other senses. We find it in new buds, a comfortable breeze and the warmth of the sun. It exists alongside winter.’

There’s a similar feeling with these stories, there’s no exact moment when it really hits you, it’s an accumulation of moments and dialogue that leaves you soothed while at the same time wanting more. I’m finding this to be true of most books written by Japanese authors and it’s a sensation I’m enjoying more as I’m reaching my 30s than I have in the past. As much as I enjoy reading exciting stories with plenty of action and tension, I like the balance these stories bring to a chaotic mind.

The messages in Tales of the Cafe are relatable for all readers and so the meanings of each drive deep. The character’s problems are so moving because they are common and mundane. I can’t relate to having magical powers, or flying in space, but I can relate to losing someone I care about both socially and physically. The ways each character learns what their visit teaches them are profound and equally useful for readers to take away from. Kawaguchi reminds us that despite our hardships and our flaws and our griefs, there is still hope and happiness to be had in our lives. It’s often difficult to bring ourselves out of our intrusive thoughts. We focus so much on the negatives that we forget that the positives are still there. Kawaguchi poses an alternative view that perhaps it is because of these bad experiences that we are able to see the good more clearly—we just have to choose it.

Kawaguchi’s third installment in the Before the Coffee Gets Cold series, Before Your Memory Fades following four new customers, is set to release on 30th of August this year and I can safely say I won’t be waiting another 12 months to read it.

Review – 4.5/5 stars
Author – Tochikazu Kawaguchi
Publisher – Picador 2020
ISBN – 1529050863


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