I Am a Cat
Originally 1905, 1906
Translated from the Japanese by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson
Ms. Hen had planned to read this novel for a long time simply because she liked the title. She wanted to read an entire book from the point of view of a cat. She thought it would be fascinating to get into a cat’s mind, or what an author would think a cat ponders. But she didn’t like this book as much as she thought she would.
One of the reasons she didn’t like it is because it is not completely about a cat; it is about a cat’s observances about the humans around him. And since the people surrounding the cat are men in Japan circa 1906, they are completely misogynistic and narrow-minded. But there are some positive things about the book.
This novel is very long and winding and reminded Ms. Hen a little of Proust’s IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, but it takes place in Japan, and as told by a cat. Ms. Hen liked the parts where the cat talked about being a cat, and the things he did, such as visiting other cats in the neighborhood, and trying to catch rats.
Ms. Hen didn’t like the way the owner of the protagonist treats his pet. She thinks the family is cruel to the cat. It could have been because he is a stray, but it made Ms. Hen wonder about the cats that belong to people she knows today; contemporary cats are thoroughly spoiled! The poor cat in this novel was tortured by the children and dismissed by the household. Cats these days in the United States are pampered and coddled beyond belief. Cats in Japan one hundred years ago did not have the same comfortable life that our feline friends do today.
As well as disrespecting women, the men in this novel show their disdain for dark-skinned people. Ms. Hen couldn’t believe what she was reading when she read it. The men talk about a certain village in Japan where the women were dark, and one man said that it was a good thing, because it would make them less vain. Ms. Hen was disgusted with these characters, and she would have stopped reading the book right then, but she was on page 411, and she had spent almost two weeks reading this tome, and she wasn’t going to give up right near the end. So she persevered.
The end of the novel was one of the strangest she has ever read. She will not give it away, because that’s not the proper thing to do in a review, but if you see her in person, you can ask her and she will tell you. It is sad and upsetting, but Ms. Hen realized that’s the way life is sometimes, there are things that just don’t make any sense. Usually in literature, aspects of novels have to make sense, but not always, and as it stands, not in I AM A CAT.
Ms. Hen read this book so you don’t have to. She loves cats, but she would have liked a more entertaining novel about a charming, curmudgeonly cat that watches interesting, complicated people. Instead she became upset and her eyes glazed over at times. Now she’s glad it’s over.