His Best Friend, the Cat

One dog appears in a chapter of Hiro Arikawa’s novel, The Travelling Cat Chronicles. He is not Man’s Best Friend, just one man’s loyal if not too bright companion. Rather, the star of this novel and truly a man’s best friend is a stray cat who acquires the name Nana (for ‘seven’ in Japanese denoting the shape of his black tail) from a young man who befriends him.

In the book’s Prologue, the thirty-year-old Satoru finds a cat on the hood of his silver van. He encourages the cat’s trust by leaving him food, caring for his injuries when a car hits Nana and breaks his leg, then offering him the safety and comfort of his home, which the cat accepts, including his female-gender name.

After five years together, “unavoidable circumstances,” as Satoru explains to everyone, force him to find another home for Nana, and they embark on a journey to different areas of Japan in search of a willing adopter.

Satoru visits friends from his school days—elementary, junior high school, and high school—who live in these places.  Each chapter explores Satoru’s complex relationship with these friends, including their shared histories and misunderstandings. The novel resolves with a subtle, but moving bipartite conclusion: 1) life is fragile and we all, bipeds and quadrupeds, should acknowledge and treasure its few blessings; and 2) of all Satoru’s friends, the most loyal and supportive is Nana the Cat.

The graphic novels of Hiro Arikawa (b.1972) earned her respect and good sales in her native Japan, but The Travelling Cat Chronicles has outpaced them as a bestseller in Japan. The recent English translation, under a Penguin Books imprint has rightfully attracted a lot of unexpected attention. The skillfully constructed, affecting story flows and its most heart-wrenching moments ambush the reader who hasn’t been paying attention to a few well-placed hints earlier in the narrative.

I recommend this work and on Goodreads gave it five stars for its high level of craft, its narrative designed to resonate with many different readers, and for its beautifully drawn characters including a marvelous cat.

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