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BOUND TO PLEASE / Walking into a couple’s life, feline enters their hearts

The Japan News

By Mikiko Miyakawa / Japan News Staff WriterThe Guest Cat

By Takashi Hiraide

Translated by Eric Selland

Picador, 140pp

If you’re a cat lover, you’ll be attracted to this novel the moment you see its cover, which features an adorable illustration, based on a painting by Leonard Foujita of a cat under its title. “The Guest Cat” will not betray cat lovers’ expectations, so vividly and precisely does it depict a cat’s behavior.

Even if you’re not a cat lover, this book is certainly worth reading.

Written by novelist and poet Takashi Hiraide, “The Guest Cat” won the Shohei Kiyama Literary Prize in Japan and became a best seller in both France and the United States. It was also translated into Spanish.

Before the English edition’s release, a French translation was published in 2004 as “Le Chat qui venait du ciel” (The cat who came from heaven), a title that well reflects the essence of the novel.

The story revolves around a childless married couple in their 30s, a freelance writer and a proofreader, who live in a rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. The reader will soon realize the story — about the happy days the couple spend with a cat named Chibi and the unexpected parting with the beloved creature — is based on Hiraide’s real experience. Chibi, which belonged to a neighbor, was indeed a guest.

Hiraide meticulously portrays various incidents involving the cat. For instance, he describes the day when the cat entered his house for the first time. Up to this point, the couple simply enjoyed watching the cat playing in their tiny garden:

“I often remember the appearance of Chibi the cat, and the scene in the guesthouse when she first came inside ... One shining, sunny afternoon, slipping through a crack in the open door, four bright white feet stepped softly onto the room’s insulated drain board ...”

Hiraide’s portrayals of nature and life are surprisingly intricate, delicately describing how the couple’s life gradually became more colorful with the guest cat’s emergence and how she had penetrated deep into their hearts, and how their life later suddenly became dull with the loss of the cat. His delicate writing style apparently owes a lot to his expertise as a poet. The English translation of his poetry collection, “Kurumi no seni no tameni” (For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut), won the Best Translated Book Award in the United States.

The book reminded me of a cat who frequented my former apartment nearly two decades ago. The feline, which I named Shiro-chan because of his creamy-colored fur, visited my place almost every day, just as Chibi visited in the novel. I didn’t let him in as I already had some house cats, which unfortunately didn’t get along with the stranger. But more than that, he might have belonged to a neighbor, judging from the flea collar around his neck. Even so, I often fed him, and he slept on the washing machine by the door.

But one day I moved out of the apartment and said good-bye to Shiro, never to see him again. Even so, he has been in my heart for all these years.

In the novel, Chibi suddenly disappears, which forces the couple to realize that she really was a guest cat. They move out of the rented cottage to a new apartment in the neighborhood, where they encounter some stray kittens. One of them eventually becomes the couple’s house cat, named Nana, which lives a long time with the couple.

Cats really are gifts from heaven.

Where to read

In a living room or veranda overlooking a garden, wondering when a guest cat might show up

Maruzen price: ¥2,000 plus tax (as of Sept. 30, 2015)

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