Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

The Guest Cat is a quietly luminous novella by Japanese poet Takashi Hiraide, translated by Eric Selland. There isn't much of a plot: a young couple renting a cottage in the suburbs of Tokyo interacts with a neighbour's cat.

It took a little while for Hiraide's descriptive prose to draw me in. I had to let my mind slow to the meditative rhythm, to the contemplation of moments of beauty, the inevitability of change, the natural cycles of life and death.

 "In mid-July, as the seasonal rains came to an end, the blue figure of a white-tailed skimmer dragonfly appeared on a large rock beside the pond in a perfect spot to catch the sun. Could it be the offspring of the skimmer who in the summer of the previous year came back again and again to kiss the arc of water produced by the spray from the hose? United in the shape of a distorted heart, the blue-and-yellow male and female had flown from branch to branch among the trees. Could this be their child, now emerged from its pupa?
Scout, the cat who lives at our house.
    The male skimmer I'd become friends with had vanished by the end of August. For a while I regretted the disappearance of my winged friend and his wife from the garden, which had now also been left behind by the old man and the old woman. But I felt as if that same skimmer had been brought back to life along with the bright light of summer. Then--between the effacement of death and this birth that was in a sense a kind of rebirth--I found vividly recalled to me those who had left and would never return."

The Guest Cat won Japan's Kiyama Shohei award in 2002, was a bestseller in France, and the English translation made several best-of-2014 lists. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about it.

Contemplative readalikes: The Fur Person (May Sarton); Glaciers (Alexis Smith); Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard). Also, a couple of picture books that capture somewhat of the same feeling: Once Upon a Memory (Nina Laden & Renata Liwska); House Held Up by Trees (Ted Kooser & Jon Klassen).

No comments: