Book Spotlight//吾輩は猫である (I Am A Cat) by Soseki Natsume.
'I am a cat. As of yet I have no name...'
Some things in life are inescapable. Notable amongst them is the very human tendency to want to laugh like a hyena on speed at Elton Johns funereal art exhibition if he ever had one. Of course in order to make us laugh we need stimulus. Just as there are millions of people there are a million ways to make someone laugh. One persons poison is anothers sweet tasting intoxicant and that's how it will always be.
Book Spotlight//I Am A Cat (吾輩は猫である)
For many, modern ideas of comedy often tend to miss the mark entirely or be so funny as to be completely inaccessible to anyone but the cleverest fan boy. To be entirely honest, I Am A Cat (English for 吾輩は猫である or Wagahai wa Neko de Aru) is definitely a perverse pleasure of immense hilarity that slays me every time I read it. Of course, being me, and being a bit of a left field thinker it's a weird book that won't appeal to everyone because of it's odd subject matter.
That being the musings of a cat living in a teachers house during Meiji era Japan. Not a lot actually happens during the ten chapters but that isn't important as I Am A Cat is actually a masterpiece of writing that is rightly recognised as one of the most important pieces of modern Japanese literature.
The author, Soseki Natsume, has a very exact way of writing that makes trying to read the original Japanese very difficult without a huge dictionary, but the English translation is equally well written and loses nothing of the effect of the originals strikingly modern humour. (The stories were originally published between 1905 and 1906 in a short story magazine.) Of course, anybody who has read this book will testify it's an enlightening read and is long enough to savour in small doses, as was originally intended.
Personally speaking I must have read it over twenty times in ten years, which is definitely tantamount to a recommendation mind! Quite why I keep coming back to it I can't say exactly, but it's combination of frankly bizarre verbal banter, cultural references and countless utterly brilliant lines is most certainly one of the reasons I can find something new in it every time I read!
The story has ten chapters and during these the unnamed cat observes the inhabitants and fellow animals of his neighborhood and unleashes his highly cultured opinion on all that he comes across in a manner so lordly you know just why cats lie around and wash themselves for most of the day. Truth be told you could almost imagine Stephen Fry voicing the cat if it ever got an English production, which is unfortunately highly unlikely due to it's decidedly odd topic matter.(We can wish...) But if you love comedy novels you'll probably adore I Am A Cat even without the background knowledge of Japanese cultural history that it mercilessly mocks and celebrates at the same time.
Words by Seba.
吾輩は猫である is published by Tuttle Books in it's English translation. For the Japanese original text click here.