Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Am A Cat - Natsume Soseki

Ah, two classic novels that lampoon society in a row. Natsume Soseki's classic "I Am A Cat" is told (believe it or not) from the point of view of a cat. The unnamed feline has an intense sense of self importance. It goes about doing normal cat things (stealing bits of fish, meowing) with the gravest sense of duty. The cat's favorite hobby is passing judgement on humans. It lives with Mr. Sneaze (a trivial man) and his unpleasant family.

I picked up this book because it is considered an essential classic of Japanese literature. I was skeptical about if I would actually enjoy it. I'm not that familiar with Meiji Era society and I figured most of the jokes would either 1. Go over my head or 2. Not be funny. 

Happily, I was wrong. Thanks in no small part to an excellent translation, the prose flies by. It was amusing and clever. No matter what society, cats are still adorable assholes and humans are still petty and silly. The cat's treatise on how weird haircuts and hair styling is should not be missed. 

The Meiji Era was a time of transition in Japanese society, when Western influences were starting to have a profound effect both culturally and economically. It is interesting to see characters talk about Western culture from an outsider's perspective. Soseki was highly educated in Western literature, and loves lampooning people who pretend they know about the West but don't. (See a funny exchange in which a man demands "moatballs" and refuses to accept "meatballs.

Clocking in at over 600 pages, this book did drag at time. Yet, over it is a great introduction to Japanese literature.