My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been making a real effort to read more translated fiction, so was very excited to find this story about a man who makes a deal with the devil. It has some really intriguing ideas and raises some big questions but while I did kind of love it and found it a very emotional read there seemed to be some issues with either the writing or more likely the translation that stopped it from being truly exceptional.
Our narrator’s days are numbered. Estranged from his family, living alone with only his cat Cabbage for company, he was unprepared for the doctor’s diagnosis that he has only months to live. But before he can set about tackling his bucket list, the Devil appears with a special offer: in exchange for making one thing in the world disappear, he can have one extra day of life. And so begins a very bizarre week . . .
Because how do you decide what makes life worth living? How do you separate out what you can do without from what you hold dear? In dealing with the Devil our narrator will take himself – and his beloved cat – to the brink. Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World is a story of loss and reconciliation, of one man’s journey to discover what really matters in modern life.
This beautiful tale is translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland, who also translated The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. Fans of The Guest Cat will also surely love If Cats Disappeared from the World.
This book left me in such a blubbering mess I didn’t know where to start as far as reviewing it. I find it difficult to separate my heart, which kind of loved it, from my head, which recognizes there was something about the writing style or possibly the translation that just didn’t work for me.
I’ve been making a real effort to read more translated fiction but to be honest what first drew me to this book was the cover and that title (yes I totally judge books by their covers). As a cat lover and owner of a small black cat I couldn’t resist that little cutie and it sounded like a quirky and intriguing premise. Thankfully, the story is not about cats disappearing (how awful would that be) but instead is about a 30 year old man who finds out he’s going to die soon and has to figure out what it is that makes life worth living.
He’s offered a deal by the devil whereby if he removes one thing from existence he gets one more day of life. While this initially seems easy, as he agrees to give up each thing he begins to realize that they may have more purpose and importance than he thought. He discovers connections between these items and the events and people in his life and how his life (and theirs) would be very different without them. He has to decide just what his life is worth without these things in it.
It’s told as a mixture of current day interactions and flashbacks to events from his past, gradually revealing the reasons why he’s very much alone, and why his closest relationship is with his cat, Cabbage. As you can imagine it’s an incredibly sad story and there was a lot of it that really resonated with me. He fears a lot of the things I do and has similar regrets and reactions. There was a lot in the story that had be sobbing (and I think I went through practically a whole box of tissues) however, these heartbreaking moments are offset a little with some lighter and funnier moments (generally involving the cat).
Where I’m really struggling however is with the writing as I can’t decide what to think and as it was translated from Japanese it’s difficult to know how much is down to the original and how much to the translation. The whole thing is very short and snappy and there is very little in the way of descriptions or dialogue, it’s almost entirely an internal monologue. There is also very little sense of place or culture so it feels like it could be set pretty much anywhere which for me, seemed a bit of a shame as it could really have added some depth to the story.
In addition to this, there is something off in the dialogue and the interactions between characters. I can’t put my finger on exactly what but something didn’t feel right to me.
Despite this though it did get to me and while I do cry pretty easily this is possibly the most I’ve cried reading a book in a while. So where does that leave me? I think I may need to read it again but I think I kind of loved it. I loved the message in it and I loved how emotional it made me. I just wish they would have a look at the translation.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.