The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

 


Author: Sosuke Natsukawa 

No. of pages: 217

Genre: Contemporary fiction, Magical realism

Published by: Picador

Published on: 16th September 2021

Format: Paperback

My rating: ★★★★★★

Grandpa used to say it all the time: books have tremendous power. But what is that power really?

Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .

The Cat Who Saved Books is a heart-warming story about finding courage, caring for others – and the tremendous power of books. Sosuke Natsukawa's international bestseller, translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai, is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper.

After Rintaro Natsuki's grandfather dies, he becomes the sole proprietor of Natsuki Books— a second-hand bookshop filled with literary treasures from around the world. A devastated Natsuki has stopped going to school and keeps himself holed up in the bookshop. He is a defined hikikomori (a Japanese term for someone who has close to none social interactions), and will soon be closing shop and moving out of town, when suddenly he is visited by a talking tabby called Tiger who asks his help to save books. Thus the cat, Natsuki, and Natsuki's class rep Sayo, goes through the different labyrinths, saving books from the imprisoner who reads only once, the mutilator who summarises books and the bookseller who sells only famous books.

This short book is inspired by the Greek Hero Theseus and his trials and tribulations through the many labyrinths. As Natsuki and his friends traverse different dimensions to save books, it shows how wide and varied readers can be.

This little gem of a book about books is everything I wanted to hear about books. With lots of magic and tons of literary references, this book poses you the answers to the essential question: "what is the correct way to read a book?" And the answer lies in every page of the book— anything and everything. I could also phrase it as "there's no correct way to read a book". 

Whether you want to annotate or reread or read abridged versions or only read the popular, read books however you want. This book is like a soft breeze. The characters so sweet, you'd want more from them. The cat named Tiger uses his sarcasm to answer every question, Natsuki is relatable when it comes to his love for books, and Sayo is the friend we all need. 

Alongside an insight into the reading culture, this book shows you that no matter what you are never alone. Natsuki's growth and development was the focal point of this story, and it was shown through the power of his love for his books. And this indeed made me realise once again, how powerful books are. 

The translator's note made me fall more in love with the book. When it says that in Japanese the pronouns of the cat do not indicate its gender even though it was posed as being a male, and yet the translator decided to use gender neutral terms for the cat to leave it to the reader's imagination, it made me realise that the translator has given us a power, just like the message of the book itself. The book is so direct and simple with its writing and yet it has such elegance, its like a privilege to read this book. 

Sosuke Natsukawa is a doctor in Nagano, Japan. His first book Kamisama No Karute ('God’s Medical Records') won the Shogakukan Fiction Prize and received second prize at the Japan Bookseller Awards. It sold over 1.5 million copies and was adapted into a film in Japan.

Louise Heal Kawai has been a Japanese-English literary translator since 2006. Her first publication was Shoko Tendo’s bestselling autobiography Yakuza Moon. She has gone on to translate a large number of crime fiction titles, including Seishi
Yokomizo’s The Honjin Murders, and works by Soji Shimada and Seicho Matsumoto. Her literary translations include Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami, and Hideo Yokoyama’s Seventeen, which was a finalist in the 2018 Believer Book Awards, and longlisted for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award. Louise comes from Manchester in the UK, and currently resides in Yokohama.

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