I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume (Volume One)

I Am a Cat

I Am Cat is narrated by…, you guess it, a cat. I never have a cat (I’m a dog person), so I don’t know the daily real behaviours of a cat. But I did find this cat interesting. I liked reading his daily life and observations of humans around him.

The cat remains nameless, since his master doesn’t bother to name him. His master is a teacher, who is a self-centered lazy man. That’s what the cat portrays him as anyway. He’s really quite annoying to read.

The book reminds me much of a Japanese movie I watched recently (An Autumn Afternoon). Both contain many idle conversations among a few Japanese men. Some of them were interesting, some were not. The last one in the first volume is a discussion of a neighbour’s nose — her gigantic nose, discussed in too many pages I thought.

The human observations revolve around the teacher and his two friends (whom he has many idle conversations with), the teacher’s household including his wife, children, and servant, and their neighbours. What I enjoyed most reading was the cat’s opinions, not the humans. (I wonder what that says about me!) Fortunately the cat has cat neighbours too and we get to know a couple of other cats, though not long after, our cat is not so interested to mingle with the other cats anymore as he starts feeling he’s more human than cat. (my gosh how many times cat appeared in my last sentence?!)

“Feeling that I am now closer to humans that to cats, the idea of rallying my own race in an effort to wrest supremacy from the bipeds no longer has the least appeal. Moreover, I have developed, indeed evolved, to such an extent that there are now times when I think of myself as just another human in the human world; which I find very encouraging. It is not that I look down on my own race, but it is no more than natural to feel most at ease among those whose attitudes are similar to one’s own.” ~ The Cat, p70

He’s just so cute.

What bothered me most was the English translation of everything! The teacher’s name is Sneaze. His friends Waverhouse and Coldmoon. His neighbour’s name is Goldfield. What’s with the English names? It’s weird. There are some Japanese names in the book, so not all were translated to English. I wonder what the consideration was to change the main characters’ names to English. Many, if not all, the food items were also translated to English, which confused, not to mention annoyed, me a lot. I’d prefer their original Japanese names with footnotes. That way we get to learn their original names, or if we are familiar with them, could recognize what is what straight away.

As I imagine (and the book confirms), to cats everyday is like a lazy Sunday afternoon. That’s what I would describe the book as. A lazy Sunday afternoon.

4 stars
1905 (Japanese), 2002 (English), 116 pp

I read I Am a Cat for tanabata’s JLit Read-along. The schedule of the first volume is 15 November, second volume on 15 December, and third on 15 January 2010. I’m late for the read-along, but I have at least finished the first one! :) I’m not sure if I could catch up for the last two volumes, as this is the time of the year in which my reading schedule could become erratic, and this is not the kind of book you want to rush along, but I plan to continue for sure.

The participants’ post for Volume One:
In Spring it is the Dawn (many useful cultural references!)
Gnoegnoe at Graasland
Terri B. at Tip of the Iceberg
Claire at Paperback Reader

I Am a Cat
As I don’t have a real cat you just need to put up with my cat wrist rest.

Natsume Soseki
Sōseki Natsume (1867-1916)

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23 thoughts on “I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume (Volume One)

    1. mee Post author

      For me I’d been meaning to read this book since about 2 years ago! So I just had to take the opportunity when a few people mentioned about I Am a Cat for the read-along :)

      Reply
  1. tanabata

    I love how you compared I Am a Cat to a lazy Sunday afternoon. What a great way to describe it. And I love your little cat wrist rest. Me want!
    I completely agree with you about the names, it really bothers me too that they’ve been translated into English, but not even consistently. I’d much rather have the names as they are originally, with a note of explanation, if desired, to explain their meaning. Names are names, right?
    I can kind of understand translating the food though. For someone who’s never tried it, mochi has no meaning, but rice cake is something they might be able to understand, as one example.
    Anyway, I’m glad you’re reading along, and don’t worry about following the schedule if you can’t. I now this time of year can be pretty hectic. I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the book whenever you get to it. :)
    .-= [tanabata´s last blog: Persephone Secret Santa] =-.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      I agree that the translation of food might be necessary, but names are unforgivable! The English names are so unnatural and such a mouthful to pronounce!

      I guess my problem with food translation is that I’m quite familiar with all the food items. So for example mochi would register straight away. But rice cake could mean a whole lot of different food things, which confused me. That’s why I mentioned footnotes. Japanese names with footnotes should work well, shouldn’t it?

      I’ll let you know when I get to the next volumes. Thanks for hosting tanabata! I look forward to your thoughts as well.

      Reply
    1. mee Post author

      My libraries don’t have it as well! It’s one of the reasons why I had waited for so long to read the book (I got to know it about 2-3 years ago). I finally gave up and bought a copy when we started the read-along :)

      Reply
  2. Bellezza

    I wish I would’ve joined on in on this read along; it just came at such a busy time for me. However, I’ve loved reading the reviews, and as a recent cat convert, I know I’ll pick it up some day. I liked the picture of your ‘wrist pillow’ over the book, as well as your review.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Lol, recent cat convert. I was wondering while reading the book if I would be a cat convert in the future :D

      It IS a busy time, isn’t it? I’m never sure myself if I can keep up with the schedule, but I’m glad I tackled the first volume.

      Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Suko, it’s not that I dislike cats. I’m just not familiar with them. I had only dogs as pets since I was small. I know dogs behaviours very well, but cats, well, I almost have no clue!

      Reply
  3. Michelle (su[shu])

    Ah!! I want to read your thoughts on the book, but, but…

    I signed up to join for the read-along as well, but have yet to start it! The book’s sitting on my shelf right now. Your post (very timely, I would say), in fact, just the title of your post alone, is prompting me to pick it up next!

    I’ll be back when I’ve gone through the first chapter. =)
    .-= [Michelle (su[shu])´s last blog: RRC #4] =-.

    Reply
  4. mee Post author

    At least the book is sitting on your shelf, so you just need to pick it up ;)
    I look forward to your thoughts!

    Reply
  5. Michelle (su[shu])

    I have JUST finished the first volume. So I’m back!

    I’m reading a completely different edition from the one you (and most others, I think) are reading.The copy I’m reading was published in 1971 (I think..). From your comments about how the names of the characters have been changed as well, I’m wondering if my edition is perhaps more enjoyable?

    It is just as you would want it really, because it does in fact have the names of the food items in the original Japanese, with footnotes to explain them! I had a look at some of the pages on Amazon, and found that the translation was quite different as well. (That, and plus the characters keep their Japanese names.)

    But back to the book, and your thoughts. I’ll say you’ve put it quite aptly. The book does seem to revolve around the idle conversations of the three men, and sometimes I find their topics rather nonsensical too! I had to laugh at the pages devoted to the large nose though!

    I still don’t quite know where the story is heading, but I like the flow of it overall. I’ll post my thoughts on my blog when I finish the whole book. =)
    .-= [Michelle (su[shu])´s last blog: City of Shared Stories] =-.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      I didn’t know there were two translations! I did see the old copy of I Am a Cat at Japanese Foundation Library here, but they’re published in separate volumes and look old, so I insisted to read the newly published one. I thought they’re of the same translation. Apparently not!

      Well I will continue reading my copy but I’d be interested to peek through the older translation when I see one. Apart from my qualms about the human names and food, the sentences actually flow rather nicely. I found it to be probably one of the better translated books.

      You read really fast! I’m now sure you’ll finish it before I do. I got distracted by other books :)

      Reply
  6. vivienne

    Hi Mee, just to let you know I received my lovely Christmas gift this morning. It was lovely – thank you so much for sending the lovely gifts. I can’t believe I have never come across your blog before, especially as so many of my blogging friends visit you. I shall be back. Thanks for stopping by my blog too.
    .-= [vivienne´s last blog: Christmas Eve! A Week Today!] =-.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Vivienne, welcome! Likewise, I never came across your blog before the Holiday Swap! I’m glad you liked the gifts. I’m so nervous about it as it looks like so many people give awesome gifts.

      Reply
  7. Mark David

    A lazy Sunday afternoon… now this sounds like my kind of book :)

    Cute review for a cute cat’s story. And that wrist rest of yours is rather cute as well!

    Hope you’re having a blessed weekend with your loved ones! :)
    .-= [Mark David´s last blog: A Time for Reflection] =-.

    Reply
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