Booktalk: A world where cats have disappeared…

Where I live (the Netherlands) we have a holiday tradition called Sinterklaas. Nowadays mostly known for the inability of some fanatics to change the racist part of it (black Pete), but when one removes/replaces ‘black’ Pete with just normal Pete or no Pete, Sinterklaas is an actual fun tradition. The story goes like this: Saint Nicholas is a saint from Turkey who lives in Spain. Each year a month before his birthday (the 6th of December) he gathers his helpers, his horse, and his steamboat and floats over to the Netherlands. Here he gives the nice children some  ‘strooigoed‘, chocolate letters and small presents, until the 5th of December when he sent his helper to bring the kids a sack full of presents and they sing songs etc.  Traditionally, the ‘naughty’ kids go with him in a sack to Spain.

When you’re a bit older, and (spoiler alert) you find out Sinterklaas isn’t real, people draw names and make ‘surprises’ for each other. This normally consists of a funny poem makes fun of something you did in the last year, and a gift. Some go all out and make something to emphases the poem as well. This year we celebrated Sinterklaas and my brother got me a book, because I read a lot and because this book is about a world without cats. So the ideal book for me!

There aren’t many characters in the book. It’s a final letter from a young postman, who stays unnamed, to his estranges dad. The main characters throughout the novel are himself, his cat and the devil.

  • The postman. Aged 30 and diagnosed with terminal cancer, He has a short time to live and initially doesn’t seem to care too much about dying, but throughout the story starts to realize how much he likes life. Has an estranged relationship with his father, and therefore hasn’t talked to him in a while. Seems like a lonely guy, without any meaningful relationships in his life.
  • The cat Cabbage. Everything a cat should be. Slightly arrogant, sleeping on his bed and waking him up in the morning. Used to be the postman’s mothers’ cat and after she died, he took him in. Probably the only real, daily connection the postman has. Also learns to talk for a while, likes to take walks outside and is a local hero.
  • The Devil. Shows up after the mailman gets home from the doctor.  He offers the postman a deal: for everything he vanishes the postman gets another day before dying. 

Like love, life is beautiful because it has to end.

Genki Kawamura – If Cats Disappeared From The World

Cultural differences?

Like with all the Japanese books I’ve read, which are basically all Murakami novels so maybe not a proper standard to set, the style is clearly non-western. There isn’t a lot happening, at least not in the same way as western novels often have. Here there’s a lot of thinking and contemplating, instead of conversations and interactions.

Obviously, there is some of that as well, since the postman goes out, talks to his cat, the Devil, and his ex-girlfriend, but it’s not the main focus. The novel is very clear about the postman overthinking his life and finding closure in the loose ends. It’s more philosophical than western novels I’d say (although, that might be because I haven’t read those yet). It’s more relaxing and gives you time to think about your own life as well.

All in all

The book is an easy read, with short sentences and with an easy layout. However, it’s not a kids book. It’s quite philosophical and makes you think about life and what aspects of the world have had an impact on your life. And, maybe mostly how you influence the world around you.

It’s a book you can read for some easy entertainment and a book that makes you think.