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October 10, 2021

Tales from the Cafe by Toshikazu Kawaguchi ~ a Review

by Donna Huber


Over the last few years, I've been trying to read more translated fiction. That is how I discovered Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Japanese author Toshikazu Kawaguchi in 2019 (read my review). When I saw there was a sequel coming out I was excited - so excited that I requested both the audiobook and the e-ARC via Netgalley in hopes of being approved for at least one. I got approved for both versions!

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Tales from the Cafe
October 2021; Hanover Square/Harlequin Audio
978-1335630988; audio (5h 30m), ebook, print (256 pages)
translated fiction, magical realism

I started with the audiobook because I was at work and had finished the audiobook I had been listening to. Tales from the Cafe felt very much like the first book. The same stark language - it's as if someone else is re-telling you a story. That feeling is made stronger by the fact it is told in third person. I remembered from reading the previous book that it started a little slow but since I knew what to expect with this volume I had hoped to get into the story a bit quicker. 

As I was also working on my book club book (another Japanese novel) I continued listening to the audiobook. I didn't like the narrator reading the book. He felt detached from what he was reading. It felt flat and for a book that is only five and a half hours it took me days to get to the halfway point. As I felt it had more to do with the audiobook rather than the story, I picked up the e-ARC yesterday morning. In just a few hours I had it read.

If you haven't read the previous book. that's okay. Outside of the cafe owners, the characters that visit the cafe to time travel are all new. You should prepare yourself that these stories will feel like reading short stories at first. There is also a bit of repetition with each chapter as the person coming to the cafe has to be told the rules of time travel.

If you have read the previous book, the format of Tales from the Cafe is exactly the same. You will also feel very satisfied as there are mentions of the characters from Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

While I haven't read Japanese literature extensively, the few books I have read have been similar in style. On the surface, it seems very minimalist and almost without emotion. Someone at book club mentioned that they felt like they were looking down on the story (in reference to the book we read) and that is an apt description for Tales from the Cafe. Yet, the book is not without emotion. Many of the characters are sobbing and happiness is a prominent theme. 

I thought it is interesting that there is a little section about the Japanese language. It felt kind of like a tangent and I had to wonder if it had been added for the English-speaking audience. It is mentioned that Japanese uses "onomatopoeic expressions to communicate sounds". That device is employed in the story  - such as the tears dropping to the table. It is this subtle means of infusing emotion into the story that gives it a lyrical quality, but you must read closely to catch it.

There is quite a bit of repetition in the story. It goes beyond the repeated rules and I don't remember it from the previous book. However, it also adds to the poetic feel of the writing style. It's like every time the character's story is retold (or maybe restarted is a better word) the reader gets another layer added.

There could be many more volumes of stories from the cafe, but as a two-volume series, it feels very complete and satisfying. Both are short, quick reads so it would be easy to read both of them in a weekend if you haven't read the first book yet.

Buy Tales from the Cafe at Amazon


Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.


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