I am a Cat

I am a Cat
by Soseki Natsume

Cover for I am a CatThe cat in question, which has not been named, lives in the house of a schoolteacher, Mr. Sneaze, a somewhat stingy and definitely dyspeptic man with a wife and three children. As soon as the cat arrives at this household, it begins to quietly observe his master and the friends that come to visit: Mainly Coldmoon, a former student of his master and now looking for a wife, and the rich Waverhouse telling his stories, whether true or false, and a number of others. The cat is always there, occasionally taking matters in his own paws, but mostly observing from the background and commenting on the three men and the things that happen to and around them.

The cat’s observations are pointed and witty, sometimes scathing, and always come from a somewhat aloof position. This way, the reader is presented with an interesting picture of humanity in general, and those living in Tokyo of the Meiji period in particular, where Western influences creep into Japanese culture and make for an especially interesting mix.

I am not entirely sure what to think of this book, and I have read it twice now. It has been written as a series of short stories that appeared in a magazine. The first story is hilarious, and its success prompted the author to write more stories about the nameless cat. The stories can stand alone, but there is a common arc throughout, which would have been better if the book had been planned as such from the outset, I think. And towards the end of the book, the cat (or rather: the author) loses himself in long and rambling philosophical meanderings, which are sometimes hard to follow. Friends have assured me though that the Japanese original reads much better than any translation. Okay – I may get back to it again in a few years.

Soseki Natsume is considered the best writer of Japanese (modern) history, and he is still widely read today. He was born in 1867 in Tokyo and studied English literature from 1890. He spent two years in England, which he thoroughly disliked, and when he returned to Japan in 1903, he started publishing his works. “I am a Cat” was among his first published books, and is considered a masterpiece. Soseki died in 1916.

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3 thoughts on “I am a Cat”

  1. Twice? o.O You have my respect. I barely made it through once.
    As you say: It starts of really well and then just goes off to somewhere it’s hard to follow.

    1. There were a number of years in between 😉

      Maybe I’m just not the right type of “literary person”? There are a number of oh so great books I have tried and was disappointed with: The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye (even worse), Ulysses (totally inaccessible)… Maybe the societal background the writers had is gone and you would need that to understand why this is so great?

      And then there are other books that just blew me away: To Kill a Mockingbird or Grapes of Wrath for example. Absolutely fantastic and timeless.

  2. I think we might have the same literary taste. Need to read Grapes of Wrath, to be sure. Everything else is spot on. 😀

    And along those lines: I just finished Slaugherhouse Five and was utterly disappointed. It is so highly praised by a lot of readers and critics alike, but I have read much better (anti war) works and couldn’t find a single thing I liked and that is really, really rare for me.
    Didn’t like the prose, nor the nonlinear narration, nor the characters, nor the story, nor the setting… *sigh*

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