“Books are filled with human thoughts and feelings. People suffering, people who are sad or happy, laughing with joy. By reading their words and their stories, by experiencing them together, we learn about the hearts and minds of other people besides ourselves. Thanks to books, it’s possible to learn not only about the people around us every day, but people living in totally different worlds.”– Sōsuke Natsukawa, “The Cat Who Saved Books”
Okay, so I’m not a huge fan of magical realism. Usually it’s a total turn off for me. But this cover had a cat on it and books (my two favorite things!) so I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did. It was sweet, entertaining, cute, and sometimes profound. At a time in my life when I very much feel like shutting myself in and away from the world, a book about a boy who tried to do just that was exactly what I needed.
The Cat Who Saved Books is narrated by Rintaro Natsuki, who has just inherited his late grandfather’s bookstore. The store wasn’t doing well financially. In a world where so much has moved online, who really wants to spend money on secondhand books? As Rintaro prepares to move in with his aunt, he finds himself skipping school to spend a little more time in the bookstore before that piece of his grandfather also becomes lost to him.
Suddenly, one day, a talking cat, named Tiger, comes into the store with an unusual request. He asks for Rintaro’s help in saving books. Not sure if he is dreaming, Rintaro agrees to help, as the back wall to the bookstore opens up into endless rows of bookshelves, like some portal to another realm. Together Rintaro and Tiger go on to meet a man who collects books only to have them rot on his shelves, another man who cuts books into tiny slivers to get rid of “unnecessary” parts to help people read faster, and a book publisher who is only interested in best sellers. These adventures start to pull Rintaro out of his shell, and when the class representative is also pulled into the adventures, Rintaro learns that he is only as alone in the world as he chooses to be.
This definitely has the feel of a YA (young adult) book, but I think it works for booklovers of all ages. The plot reminds me a bit of something Studio Ghibli would animate, and I imagined it stylistically in that way. I loved the conversations about the worth of books and the wealth of our collective human stories. Those discussions became characters of their own, and so, I feel like books, or at least the general idea of books, became a central force in keeping Rintaro grounded and able to connect to both himself and others.
Some readers complain that the cat is a bit of a jerk in this story. He certainly is, but I don’t think Rintaro was ready to accept kindness at the beginning of the story. I believe Tiger was exactly who he needed to be to get through to Rintaro and he leaves the story when he needs to. This makes him something more of a plot device than an actual character, but I didn’t mind it. The real journey took place within Rintaro himself, not within his conversations with Tiger, the cat.
It was interesting to learn more about hikikomori, Japanese shut ins, mostly male, who isolate themselves from the world and instead choose to live within video games or books. The hikikomori lifestyle has become so pervasive in Japan that many families hire “friends” for their hikikomori children to take them out into the world for a couple of hours at a time to try to reacclimate them to society, friendships, and life outside of their own heads. I believe the character of Rintaro shows accurately that hikikomori do not shut themselves off from the world because they do not care, but because they care too much. And what do you do when you see the pain others are in and internalize it?
Although that’s a question this book doesn’t quite answer, it is still well worth the read. Not only will you find an interesting story, but you’ll get a small peak into Japanese culture and people whose lives may not be like yours, but are every bit as amazing.
“Books can’t live your life for you. The reader who forgets to walk on his own two feet is like an old encyclopedia, his head stuffed with out-of-date information. Unless someone else opens it up, it’s nothing but a useless antique.”– Sōsuke Natsukawa, “The Cat Who Saved Books”
- Cats and books! What more could you want?
- Rintaro is relatable and likeable as a character. It is fulfilling to see him come into his own sense of confidence.
- The conversations and ideas about our human stories are beautifully written, even in translation.
- Some parts of the story do not make much sense, but it is intended to be that way. Stick with it.
- This story is very predictable, so if you’re looking for plot twists, you won’t find them here.
“It’s not true that the more you read, the more you see of the world. No matter how much knowledge you cram into your head, unless you think with your own mind, walk with your own feet, the knowledge you acquire will never be anything more than empty and borrowed.”– Sōsuke Natsukawa, “The Cat Who Saved Books”
- book lovers
- those wanting to disengage from society
- lovers of human stories
- those wanting to learn about a new culture in a way that doesn’t feel like a documentary
Books to Read if You Loved The Cat Who Loved Books:
- Hikikomori by Virginia Aronson (a book of poetry)
- The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (about an American hermit)
- Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (click the link to read my review)
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- What is the best translated novel you’ve ever read? What was its original language?
- Do all stories have value?
- How can books be like friends?
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