Title: I Am a Cat
Author: Soseki Natsume
I Am a Cat, originally syndicated, was the breakthrough publication for Soseki, one of modern Japan's most influential writers. As the title implies, the story is told from the perspective of an unnamed house cat. For most of the narrative, the cat is eavesdropping on the conversations of his master, Mr. Sneaze, a rather fussy English teacher.
Japan was in a state of rapid transition in the early 20th century, rather too rapid for many people's tastes. In 1905, Japan shocked the world by besting the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, unexpectedly emerging as a global power. While the victory was a source of great pride, many traditionalists were none too happy about the increasing Western influence over Japan. The discussions among Sneaze and his quirky friends revolve around these concerns. And of course, there is that ever-present theme of nearly all Japanese literature: the inherent loneliness of modern life.
As my wife recently observed, I'm not a huge fan of wordy books. People just sitting around talking isn't what I seek in an absorbing read. I Am a Cat can be slow-going along those lines but it definitely has its moments of both profundity and humor. Soseki's description of the board game Go, for instance, is wonderful.
The best passages are the ones about the cat himself, though those are few and far between. Cats are a popular subject in Japanese art, often appearing in woodblock prints, the better ones reflecting a genuine love and appreciation for the animal. We own two cats and are thus well acquainted with their peculiarities. One paragraph provides a delightful recounting of the narrator cat chasing his own tail, referring to it as "Great Tail Gracious Diety." If there had been more about the cat and less about the humans, I'd have enjoyed the book more. Even so, it's a worthwhile read.
Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month. This month's link list is below. I'll keep it open until the end of the day. I'll post January's tomorrow. Meetings are the last Friday of each month. Next gathering is January 29th.