If you’re a fan of road trip novels but ever wondered what it would be like if one of the participants was a cat, you may want to check out The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Satoru and Nana, companions for several years, must now set out in a silver van to find a new home for Nana. Visiting the homes of some childhood friends, histories unfold and how much of ourselves is imprinted on those we leave behind as we move on, through life and beyond, human or animal, is conveyed in this beautiful written, translated, and spoken novel.
Published: 23 October 2018 (first published 1 November 2012)
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Category: Fiction/Cultural (Japan)/Contemporary/Animals
It’s not the journey that counts, but who’s at your side.
Nana, a cat, is devoted to Satoru, his owner. So when Satoru decides to go on a roadtrip one day to find him a new home, Nana is perplexed. They visit Satoru’s old friends from his school days and early youth. His friends may have untidy emotional lives but they are all animal lovers, and they also wonder why Satoru is trying to give his beloved cat away. Until the day Nana suddenly understands a long-held secret about his much-loved owner, and his heart begins to break.
Narrated in turns by Nana and by his owner, this funny, uplifting, heartrending story of a cat is nothing if not profoundly human.
Rating: 5 Stars
CW: car accident resulting in gruesome injury to an animal, death of parents, miscarriage, misogyny
The book is full of passages that may be quite familiar to many a cat lover, especially those that assist strays. When Satoru takes Nana in after a bad accident necessitates a lengthy recuperation, Nana assumes he’ll have to return to the streets. There’s a poignant moment, though, when he observes a look on Satoru’s face.
Satoru didn’t look worried so much as forlorn. The same way he seemed about the furniture and the rug. It’s not totally off limits, but still … That sort of expression. “Do you still prefer to live outside?” Hang on now—enough with the teary face. You look like that, you’ll start making me feel sad that I’m leaving. And then, out of the blue: “Listen, Cat, I was wondering if you would become my cat.”
While the story is told from the cat’s point of view, the moment in which this happens and Satoru hesitantly asks whether Nana might consider becoming *his* cat resonates in the heart of a cat loving reader. If you’ve ever left a treat outside or tried to endear a strange cat, there’s a familiar moment to this where you hope that they’ll stay and a familiar moment where you’re afraid they’ll go forever.
After the beginning, in which the union of Satoru and Nana is witnessed, five years pass. Their relationship is a close one, but a time comes when they must undertake the journey that gives Nana his titular name. It isn’t immediately clear while this journey, meeting these old friends of Satoru from three stages of his life, is necessary, lending the narrative a sense of overhanging foreboding.
As Satoru spends time at three potential homes, those of Kosuke, Yoshimine, Sugi & Chikako, and tries to decide whether they’d make a good home for Nana, details are revealed about his past and that of the potential caregivers. There are some dubious feelings to be had, such as the first stop with Kosuke, who considers adopting Nana as a way to reconcile with his wife and tempt her home after a separation.
He began to wonder if his wife, a true cat lover, might actually come home if he took in the cat. Perhaps if he told her he had adopted the animal but didn’t know how to look after it and begged her to help, perhaps she would come back solely out of sympathy for the cat.
The story he reminisces about with Satoru, however, reveals so much more than this first impression. The same could be said about each story. The book isn’t just about finding Nana a new home. It, through Satoru’s friendships, these potential new homes, is about the expectations our parents put on us, what we hold onto of those expectations into our adulthoods, even if there are toxic elements. It’s about learning to let go and move on to hopefully healthy futures and relationships.
The overall work was excellent, but there are moments where Satoru shows particular affection for Nana, as the quote above when he was saddened when it looked as though Nana would leave him for the life of a stray once more, or when Nana, when comforting Satoru’s aunt Noriko, acts out in a way that highlights just how much he understands the depths of human emotion.
“EEEEK! Nana! You did it again!”
I’d removed every single tissue from the box and was sitting quietly in the corner contemplating the result of my actions.
“You don’t use them, so why take them out?”
Good point. But as you focus on your anger and on tidying up the floor, don’t all your sad feelings begin to lift a bit?
“What a waste! What a complete waste!” Noriko muttered as she strutted around picking up the tissues, but then, as if letting out a soft puff of air, she laughed.
George Blagden, the narrator, does exceptional work when choosing the different voices for the cast, from a slightly superior tone for Nana to a raspy voice for an elderly man Satoru & Nana meet at a a service station while on one of their road trips. There was never any trouble distinguishing between the characters, human or animal, his tonal work was another thing.
The quality of the recording was very good. The narrator, as stated, did well with his characterizations, but was also very good with enunciations, clarity, and so forth. There were no moments of scratchiness evident, making the listening experience very smooth. There was no background music, simply the voice of the single narrator telling the story in the quality as stated above.
There’s a scene where (pardon my crypticness for a moment, it would be too much of a spoiler to be more explicit) Nana is going through something quite emotional. That heartbreaking scene, where Nana is speaking out and the reader can understand the words while any human within the story cannot…the sheer importance and devastating nature of the scene, combined with the emotion that George Blagden puts behind his portrayal, makes it intense and heartbreaking.
Hiro Arikawa’s novel about the relationship between Nana and Satoru, about the lasting effect that each has not only on each other but those around them, is a fulfilling, amazing book that I could read again and again, even knowing that my heart will great wrecked each and every time.
My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.
I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and secured my own copy of the audiobook. The quotes within are from the advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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