Monday, November 16, 2009

I Am a Cat, Volume 1 - Discussion

I'm currently working my way through I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume along with a few other people. You can find links to the read-along (hosted by Tanabata at In Spring it is the Dawn) over on my sidebar. Tanabata has provided some very nice background information in her post for the discussion of volume one. She has also provided some questions to get the discussion going and I'm going to use those here.

What do you think of the story so far? The schoolteacher? The cat? The schoolteacher's 'friends' who are always telling tall tales?

I find the story delightful. I happen to love satire and have had so much fun "listening" to the cat's commentary on the humans.

The dyspeptic schoolteacher is amusing. So far we know that he is lazy and pretty focused on his digestive system, begins projects and then abandons them, tries to write haiku and prose (badly, I might add), and acquires many books that he never reads. I'm sure it is a part of the satire that we never see him in his teaching role.

The cat is likeable (sp?). I enjoy the way the author has softened the satirical edge by using a feline to comment on the humans. Toward the end of volume one I noted that the cat is becoming a bit more narcissistic and snarky in a human kind of way. I'm wondering if this progression will continue and if some of the "charm" in the telling of the story will be compromised by this.

The "friends" do tell some TALL tales with sometimes quite bizarre embellishments. I especially like the "culture vulture" who is always monitoring the cultural savvy of others when he is so very clueless and gauche himself. The obsession with "hanging" as either a suicidal event or a form of execution is peculiar to me. Not sure what to make of that one. I'm guessing this is something cultural.

Have you had any difficulties reading the first volume? Any burning questions? What impression do you have of Japan from this portrayal?

The book is not plot driven and is more appropriately approached as a succession of vignettes. It is also written in a very Western style which makes it highly accessible to current readers. I appreciate the satire even when I don't quite understand the cultural context. The commentary is universal enough to apply across cultures (at least it seems to cross over to Western culture as I've experienced it). No burning questions. I have already mentioned the curious obsession with "hanging." I'll be going back to more carefully explore the cultural references and links provided by Tanabata in her discussion of volume one.

As it's a satire, what do you think the author is saying about Japan, and this class of people? What name would you give the cat, if you could? Or do you like the fact that he remains nameless?

I LOVE the fact that the cat remains nameless. That the characters are so caught up in themselves they can't even be bothered to give the cat a name definitely fits the author's commentary. Leaving the observer/narrator nameless serves to take a bit of the personal edge off of the rather biting comments the author makes about certain classes of his countrymen.

I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume is a part of my reading list for the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 hosted by Bellezza.


  1. I wish I had time to be involved in this book group...November just stinks for me with conferences and report cards to prepare. Anyway, Tanabata would shed some valuable insight into the culture, and I look forward to reading this book as well as returning to her thoughts when I do. Meanwhile, I would agree with you (having never read the book, though) that a nameless charater is very freeing. It's like they just get to be a neutral commentary on the action. Great job on your review!

  2. This does sound like a delightful story. I hope that someday I will be able to read it.

    I'm having a lot of fun following the discussion so far. Thanks for sharing your responses to the discussion questions!

  3. The schoolteacher is pretty pathetic isn't he? But I can relate to his acquiring of books he never reads though!

    Some of what I've read about the book suggests that the cat becomes increasing more 'human' and the focus is more on the humans as the book progresses. I guess we'll have to see how it goes, and whether that makes it lose some of its charm.

    I don't really know about the one friend's obsession with hanging either. Although suicide was not considered shameful then or now. Just look at the 'honourable' suicides by samurai via harakiri.

  4. I decided to back out from the challenge... I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  5. I really wanted to join in on this discussion as I've has the book for a while, but life had other plans for me :) sounds great though; enjoy

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