Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
For book group this month I drew on a recommendation from a dear friend in Norway and chose The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. I love Haruki Murakami‘s earlier works and I’m curious about other Japanese writers. I loved spending a couple of weeks in Japan in 2015. What an interesting and beautiful country!
Arikawa uses a lovely technique of giving Nana, the cat, a first person voice. Nana was a stray in Tokyo before Satoru rescued him after a car accident and brought Nana into his home. Nana is tough, street smart and talks like he’s from the streets of New York. Satoru is a devoted companion to Nana and treats him not as a pet but as a companion.
Satoru and Nana set out in Satoru’s van to visit Kosuke. He’s Satoru’s close friend from primary school and although they keep in touch they haven’t seen each other much in years. After they arrive at Kosuke’s place, Arikawa relates their shared past to the reader. A similar technique is used for Satoru and Nana’s visit to Yoshimine’s farm. Yoshimine is Satoru’s closest friend from middle school.
Next they visit Chikako and Sugi’s guest house and commercial orchard. We learn about Satoru’s friendship through high school and university with Chikako and Sugi. In the final section they visit Satoru’s aunt Noriko and we learn about their relationship.
In each of the visits to Satoru’s friends and his aunt, the road trip itself is a feature. Each lives in a different setting, from urban to rural farm to commercial orchard near Mt Fuji to Hokkaido island. The scenery is described by Nana. It’s sweet the way Satoru explains the names, for Nana, the plants and landscapes they pass. Each road trip is set in a different season. I would love to see the film of this book!
One thing that stands out to me is that Satoru remained aloof from his friends and aunts on these visits. They talk and enjoy seeing each other but there is evident restraint and estrangement. We don’t learn of any modern friendships in Tokyo for Satoru. Wouldn’t he be lonely? Why doesn’t Arikawa explore that?
I won’t give away the ending but I will say that the love and devotion between Satoru and Nana brought tears to my eyes. What did you think of this book? I thought it was lovely.
I’ll close with a passage from the start of the book to give you a taste for the writing style
One day, I was lying curled up, having a snooze, when I suddenly sensed a warm, intense gaze upon me. I unglued my eyelids a touch and saw a tall, lanky young man, eyes narrowed, staring down at me as I lay prone.
‘Do you always sleep there? ‘ he asked
I suppose so. Do you have a problem with that?
‘You’re really cute, do you know that? ‘
So they tell me.
‘Is it okay if I stroke you? ‘
No, thanks. I batted one front paw at him in what I hoped to be a gently threatening way.
‘Aren’t you a stingy one, ‘ the man said, pulling a face.
Well, how would you like it if you were sleeping and somebody came by and rubbed you all over?
If you would like to know more, this review in the Guardian newspaper is worth reading.