The Trav­el­ling Cat Chron­i­cles

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

The Trav­el­ling Cat Chron­i­cles has an un­usual nar­ra­tor: a tough-talk­ing, no-non­sense white male cat who de­clares him­self, rather proudly, a “re­al­ist”. Nana, as he is later named – a ref­er­ence in Ja­panese to his crooked tail that looks like a lucky num­ber seven – sur­vives on the streets, scroung­ing scraps from hu­mans and catch­ing mice for food.

That is un­til he meets Sa­toru. The 30-year-old city worker of­fers Nana a piece of fried chicken from his own sand­wich, care­fully strip­ping off the bat­ter, and lay­ing the meat gin­gerly on his palm. “You want me to eat right out of your hand?” Nana scoffs. “You think you’ll get all friendly with me by do­ing that? I’m not that easy.”

Of course, Nana is that easy. Tempted not only by a warm, cosy apart­ment but by the love and af­fec­tion that Sa­toru pro­vides, he soon set­tles into life as a pet. Sa­toru is a bona fide “cat fa­natic” with an op­ti­mistic out­look and a tragic past. When the two em­bark on a road trip in or­der to find Nana a new home – the rea­son for which we find out only later – the story be­gins in earnest. In their lit­tle sil­ver van, cat and man visit Sa­toru’s old child­hood friends, meet new an­i­mals, and see the coun­try’s won­ders. “At that mo­ment, we were with­out doubt the great­est trav­ellers in the world,” says Nana. “And I was the world’s great­est trav­el­ling cat.”

Hiro Arikawa’s novel, a best­seller in Ja­pan, works be­cause, de­spite the talk­ing cat, it never pushes dis­be­lief. Trans­lated with a chatty, ca­sual ease by Philip Gabriel – known for his work with Haruki Mu­rakami – Nana’s voice is in­ter­spersed with that of a more generic nar­ra­tor, which pro­vides much­needed con­text and back­ground. Im­por­tantly, each and ev­ery char­ac­ter we meet is de­picted with a ten­der nu­ance: we care deeply not only about Sa­toru and Nana but his friends and fam­ily, too.

The Trav­el­ling Cat Chron­i­cles starts whim­si­cal and ends pro­found. Early on it seems as if Sa­toru is sav­ing Nana; soon it be­comes ap­par­ent that it is Nana who saves Sa­toru. Dur­ing their jour­ney – to the big wide sea, through forests of grass and over mag­i­cal moun­tains – they both learn many lessons about the will to con­tinue on and the power of friend­ship. Most im­por­tant of all, they learn there are some things in life that you can’t con­trol, but you can choose how you re­act to them – in Sa­toru’s case, no mat­ter what, it’s with gra­cious­ness and a smile. EA

Dou­ble­day, 266pp, $29.99

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