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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