Maybe I have been underestimating cats all along. I have a feeling that cats can communicate with each other; the two cats in my house can share their thoughts and feelings. I am unsure how, but I wish it were true. Cats feel more perceptive, like they understand more about the human world than we give them credit for. These thoughts have been swaying around in my mind as I have been reading—and now that I have finished—The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
Written by Hiro Arikawa, The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the tale of a man who takes his cat on journeys around Japan. At the start of the book, we learn that these journeys are necessary only due to circumstances; the real reason is not revealed until later in the book. The owner of Nana, the cat, is Satoru, who has had a long relationship with cats. When he was a young boy, Satoru raised Hachi, a cat whose name translates to the number eight. Hachi was Satoru's friend, although due to circumstance the cat was given away to some distant relatives.
Satoru had a hard upbringing. His parents died while he was on a school trip at a young age and he went to live with his aunt. His aunt worked hard, travelling often, which meant that Satoru did not stay in the same place for his whole education. He went to primary school in a different place than he attended secondary school. Despite this, Satoru made many friends. He was caring, even though he was dealt horrible cards in the game of life. He attended his friend's gardening club so that there would be enough people for the teacher to run the club. He tried to rescue a dog that was trapped in a stream.
Nana, whose name translates to seven in English, was Satoru's new cat, the one he found when he was older. Nana was originally a stray who would sometimes rest on Satoru's car. Satoru started to leave out food and their relationship intensified until, eventually, Satoru took Nana in. They built a strong relationship with each other but after the first bit of the book it was clear something was amiss. Satoru needed to find someone else to take care of Nana.
Through the journeys, I got to learn about Satoru's life, from being very young up until high school and college. The first story featured Kosuke, a childhood friend who wanted to take care of Hachi when he was young but was not allowed to do so on account of his parents. Kosuke's wife had left when Satoru visited. Like in the other stories, this chapter started with these two characters meeting again. Then, I learned about why they were so close. Kosuke and Satoru took care of Hachi and were close, spending a lot of time with each other.
Then there was Yoshimine. Yoshimine grew up to be a farmer; he was the one who wanted to start a gardening club at school. He was interested in agriculture, so much so he once walked out of class in school to make sure the greenhouse was fine on a hot day. Yoshimine and Satoru were also close, Yoshimine, whose parents were too occupied with work to take care of him, went to live with his grandmother. Satoru understood Yoshimine did not want his business put at the front of people's minds, but a remark from their teacher made everyone aware of what was going on. Satoru reached out to Yoshimine, forming a friendship.
Later in the book, we learn about Sugi and Chikako. These two people were also childhood friends of Satoru, coming up later in his childhood. Sugi was interested in Chikako when he was young, although Sugi was concerned that Chikako may go out with Satoru. Satoru and Chikako remained friends and Sugi eventually married Chikako. Sugi helped Satoru when Satoru found a trapped dog that needed to be rescued; Sugi missed an exam to save the dog. Although he was willing to help, he was also a bit selfish, wanting to go out with Chikako.
In amongst all of this, I got to hear from the cat, which is what got me thinking about how intelligent cats can be. Nana travelled by car to see his new prospective owners, taking in Mount Fuji and the sea. Nana was scared of the sea, knowing what a threat it posed, and reacted in kind as one would to such a threat. Nana started to recognise the colours of trees under Satoru's guidance. Nana taught one cat how to hunt. He was withholding but when he wanted to he would be affectionate and show his love to Satoru. These insights were all written from the cat's perspective, coupled with humorous moments and ones which made me think how great it would be if I could, even just for a day, speak to a cat and hear back from them.
Nana was always proud to have been a stray, where he learned his hunting skills. In general, Nana was a proud cat. He was clever, figuring out how to escape his cage. He knew what he needed to do to stick with Satoru as much as he could. Everything Nana did was in the interests of Satoru—including when he scratched the face of a dog he met—but he always had his own opinions on how things should be done.
The first three people Satoru visited did not work out as owners for various reasons. Yoshimine was a bit rough and wanted a "real cat," which Nana was due to his hunting abilities, but Satoru did not see a good fit. Satoru recommended Kosuke get his own cat, potentially with his wife. Sugi and Chikako had a dog that did not get on very well with Nana. Eventually, Satoru visited his aunt—the person who had raised him after his parents died—and she agreed to take the cat in. While the transition was a bit rough, Satoru saw a loving and trusting owner in his aunt. Then, the story began to get sad.
I found myself crying a few times toward the end of the book as I discovered the reason why Satoru had taken his cat on travels around Japan, searching for a new owner. But in amongst this I was reminded of how close the relationship between a cat and their owner can be. Satoru had done his best to take care of Nana and they both knew they were each other's best friend. Nana had been taken in from the streets, saved by Satoru because Nana had a broken leg at one point, and grew fond of Satoru. This got me thinking about how much pets can mean to people—and about my own relationship with pets. Indeed, a strong—unbreakable—bond was formed between Satoru and Nana.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles was an excellent read for cat enthusiasts. The stories about how Satoru met prospective owners in his life read somewhat like short stories, infused with descriptions of what is is like to live from Nana's perspective. Even if you do not have a pet—or think about pets—this book is a good read, exploring themes of love, relationships, the past, and, of course, the perceptiveness of cats.
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