If Cats Disappeared From the World – Genki Kawamura (trans. Eric Selland)

12438978_10153127443991735_3315576425984549481_nFrom my earliest memory we have always been a dog family.  We got Chum – a mongrel, so we named him for Pedigree Chum dog food – when he followed my step-Dad to our house as a stray when I was a couple of years old. Although Chum could be snappy with strangers, chased cars if he got out and loved to pick fights with any dog which was bigger than him he was brilliant with us children. He was my confidant when I felt hard done by, my Mum’s protector when we were all away at school and was even happy to put up with me using him to practice my bandaging skills. We had other pets – hamsters, gerbils, goldfish and even a tank of woodlice – but we never had a cat. There were lots of local strays which we were allowed to feed from time to time but Mum always said no to having one: I don’t know if she just doesn’t like cats or if she realised that Chum would probably make short work of most moggies, either way it wasn’t happening. Oddly my brother, sister and I now have cats so we were not put off and, when I look back over my list of books read, I realise I read far more books about felines than any other creature. My transformation to crazy cat lady has begun.

41738495Many of these books have been written by Japanese authors – it seems that cats, like Alphaville, are big in Japan – and I really enjoy the way that these writers use these animals to explore some big issues. In this book we have a narrator whose life is turned upside-down when he is given the news that he has, at most, months to live. He returns home to try to make sense of these news in the company of his beloved pet, a cat named Cabbage, but is startled to find himself face to face with the devil. The devil, a wise cracking, Hawaiian shirt-wearing character makes him an offer – he can have one more day of life in exchange for making an item disappear from the world.  Aloha won’t allow him to choose anything too petty so we end up seeing the end of phones, clocks and films: each time our narrator is allowed to decide between these objects and a day of life. These decisions aren’t necessarily easy – like most people these days he relies heavily on his mobile and has a busy life governed by timetables – but the loss of cinema hits him very hard as he and his closest friends are real film buffs. The fourth day is offered to him in exchange for the existence of cats and this becomes the hardest decision of all to make.

This book is, in turn, amusing and thought-provoking. It leads you to consider, as the narrator does, the role your mobile phone plays in your life – both a way of communicating with the world and of separating yourself from it – and your attitude to time.  More importantly than any of this, however, is the way the narrator re-examines his relationships with people in his life: his ex-lover, his mother, who died a few years previously, and his father who he hasn’t seen since her death. The only slight oddness for me was hearing him reflect on his life – he is just 30 and keeps referring to this. Of course, he knows he is about to die so to his mind he may as well be 80 but it did jar slightly. My fault, I’m sure. All in all, an interesting addition to the list of books I have read about cats, death and Japan.





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