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I Am a Cat: Three Volumes in One Paperback – September 1, 2001
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"I Am a Cat" is not a plot-driven page turner. But if you enjoy sinking your teeth into each sentence and lingering, then this book is for you. There are so many wonderfully crafted, witty and wise sentences in here, I mean, pretty much the entire thing. This is a rich book.
Told from the perspective of a cat who acts as voyeur and anthropologist, "I Am a Cat" follows the cat's master, a school teacher named Mr. Sneaze, and his pretentious, academic visitors in Meiji Era Japan. I had no previous interest in Japanese literature, I just picked this book up out of the blue but I enjoyed learning about the specific social norms and prejudices of Japan in this time period which the book pokes fun at with much wit.
The device of the cat telling the story makes for some good jokes and philosophizing about animals' place in human society but a lot of the book is really not about the cat at all. We follow Mr. Sneaze through his mundane daily routines and his interactions with his friends. The dialog is wonderful, with one or two poet characters bursting into Haiku now and then. It made me think a little of Seinfeld in that the characters never learn a lesson- they just keep bantering and getting into their inevitable little mishaps.
By the end of the book, not a lot has happened but I had become very attached to the characters and "listening" to them talk. As I read the final two pages of the book I was bawling. I'm not sure if this was because those passages were so, so beautiful, and a different vibe from the rest of the book, or because I didn't want it to end. Probably a bit of both.
Japanese novels of around Soseki's period, while interesting, tend to be of a rather gloomy cast, but this one is humorous. The author is very famous and this story, which doesn't have much of a plot line, originally appeared serially in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.