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Writing Tips & Book review: If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura

This week's Writing Tools Tip: Planners

Book review: If Cats Disappeared From The World

Author: Genki Kawamura

Translated by: Eric Selland

Published by: Picador

(Amazon affiliate links used on this page)

What would you sacrifice for an extra day of life?

This young man’s days are numbered.

Estranged from his family, living alone with just his cat for company, he is 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 fro what you hold dear?

In dealing with the Devil our narrator will take himself- and his beloved cat- to the brink.

If Cats Disappeared From the World is a beautifully moving tale of loss and reconciliation, of one man’s journey to discover what really matters in modern life.

Humans are strange creatures...

We impose the rule of time over the world to contain it, contain what we perceive as chaos, in a way that gives it structured, regimented meaning. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Decades. Centuries. And so on.

By the same reasoning do we give names to everything. Every single thing has its own nomenclature, label, category, type, family…

So what does this have to do with Genki Kawamura’s, If Cats Disappeared From The World? Well, you have to read the novel to find out because I didn’t realise how connected the story of a man given only days to live was to such ultimate meanings to the human condition. Though, perhaps this is when many of us take the time left to us tothink deeply enough to come to these sorts of realisations.

I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that this is quite possibly one of the strangest books I’ve read to date. Kawamura weaves an interesting narrative around acceptance of death and life and love through the story’s narrator who is selfish in a seemingly harmless way; certainly no more than anyone else facing the last days of their life.

Through recollections of his mother and father, we witness a life story less flashing by and more pondering along. The narrator meets the Devil, a physical reflection of himself, and is given the opportunity to extend his life expectancy, one day at a time, by sacrificing things. The items chosen are removed from the world (that is, for everyone not just himself). As they vanish, the narrator comes to terms with the meaning of each item to humanity.

He starts with telephones.

I bought this book on impulse; intrigued by the title and, yes, the black kitten on the cover. I scanned the blurb on the way to the cashier and took the risk. I wanted to read more on the premise of what a person might sacrifice for an extra day of life. And, it reminded me of one of my earliest reads, The Cat Who Went To Heaven by Elizabeth Coastworth. It turned out there were some similarities: cute kitten/cat, Chinese rather than Japanese setting, death. The similarities end there.

I was a little disappointed in the first couple of chapters and wanted to put it down to a bad buy, but then I remembered that I often had that reaction when reading novels translated to English. All it had taken in the past was enough persistence to become used to the different style as well as commitment from me as a reader. Some stories require a high level of reader involvement and, for me, If Cats Disappeared From The World, is one such.

The book is translated from Japanese and sometimes nuance is cast adrift in translations so I’m glad I stuck with it. I did pick up on the nuances and the deeper thinking the story triggered almost without realising. I’m not sure I really enjoyed the writing style, but by the end I came to understand it and as I’ve already mentioned, once I committed to the story fully, I found meaning in phrases that seemed lighthearted on the surface but were actually carefully constructed observations.

Suffice to say, my “deep thoughts” on time and naming at the start of this review came about from reading this story. I went from this novel to Joan Didion’s, The Year of Magical Thinking and to my surprise found an unintended link between the stories. Didion reference’s a line from Richard Lester’s, Robin and Marion (the film). I love you more than even one more day.

If cats disappeared from the world is a story about time; time gained and time lost.

It’s also a story about discovering what is truly important to

you and what is important to other people, and why.

And it’s about a black cat named, Cabbage.

Back cover blurb:

The Devil picked that moment to

announce in his usual cheerful manner

The next item he’d make disappear.

I couldn’t think about anything anymore,

So I said yes just like that.

At that point, the thought that it could

Happen to my cat Cabbage had never

Crossed my mind…

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