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The Cat Who Saved Books

Cover of the book 'The Cat Who Saved Books' by Sōsuke Natsukawa

Blurb:

A celebration of books, cats, and the people who love them, infused with the heart-warming spirit of The Guest Cat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the second-hand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.
Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, Tiger and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter…

Thoughts:

Rintaro Natsuki, the 17-year-old protagonist of The Cat Who Saved Books, inherits a bookshop when his grandfather dies. He is preparing to close it up and go live with an aunt when Tiger, a talking ginger tabby cat, appears in the shop and demands that he help it save books.Tiger takes him inside four labyrinths filled with books. Sayo, Rintaro’s classmate who visits him frequently, also accompanies them from the second trip onwards.
In the four mazes, they meet people who the author, Sōsuke Natsukawa, represents as people who misuse, mistreat, or misunderstand books:

  • The first person is only interested in the number of books he reads. He wants to read the most books possible in his lifetime; he no longer derives any pleasure from reading.
  • The second one thinks that the only way to keep people interested in reading is to shorten/summarize or cut books.
  • The third does not care for great books—he is interested only in popular books, meaning those that sell well.
  • The fourth person, one whom Tiger calls the most dangerous, makes Rintaro question the meaning/purpose of literature and books.

If you love books and agree with the author’s opinions, you may enjoy this. I did, especially because I love cats and books. However, it left me wondering about many things:

  • Why are the characteristics of Rintaro, Sayo, and Tiger described repeatedly?
  • Where did Tiger come from? What does it represent/symbolize?
  • The title says the cat who saved books. Then why is Tiger only taking Rintaro to places where books are being mistreated and Rintaro doing the actual saving?
  • Are the villains actually evil or just representatives of the changing times?
  • Are classics disappearing? Aren’t they more accessible these days? Does everyone who loves books need to read classics? If readers find them difficult, isn’t it all right if they read condensed versions or summaries?
  • Don’t readers’ tastes or neurodivergence count?
  • The grandfather, the bookshop owner who left it to Rintaro, was a former university professor. He has supposedly imparted a lot of wisdom, especially about the ‘power of books’. However, that is not clearly explained in the book.
  • How will Rintaro, a high school student, manage to run the shop?

That said, the book emphasizes the general importance of books and the joy of reading. It talks about books making you aware of other people and places and helping develop compassion, tolerance, and empathy.
Rintaro tells Sayo that if you find a book difficult, it’s because it contains something new to you and that it offers you a challenge. This is true not just of books but a lot of the things you encounter in life.
I can’t comment on the translation by Louise Heal Kawai. I liked her note about the hows and whys of it at the end of the book. 

To summarize, a simple story with a touch of magical realism that makes you think.

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