Book Recommendation

She and Her Cat by Makoto Shinkai

Against an urban backdrop of humming trains and private woes, She and Her Cat explores the gentle magic of everyday.

She and Her Cat (2013), written in Japanese by Makoto Shinkai and Naruki Nagakawa and translated into English in 2022 by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is Shinkai’s debut novel. It is inspired by his popular five-minute anime that highlights the importance of communication and connection. Connection that exists between humans and between humans and their cats. Shinkai is also popularly known as the anime filmmaker of Your Name. Ginny T. Takemori is an award-winning translator of Convenience Store Woman and other Japanese fiction.

The book is a peek into a Japanese neighborhood where the local cats weave their way through the lives and homes of their owners as they navigate difficult times. I took up this book thinking it to be a soothing read and had in mind the Japanese society as portrayed in the comic anime Doraemon and Shin-chan. But this book turned out to be a solemn read with more profound issues. It is a set of four vignettes loosely connected to each otherwith each vignette focusing on one of the local cats and its owner.

The first section introduces us to a cat named Chobi and her lonely, reticent owner, Miyu, who finds it difficult to communicate and blames herself for not understanding the feelings of others. The second vignette brings us to Reina, a gifted artist, who is overconfident of herself and the cat, Mimi, who, now and then, drops in to check on her and ends up becoming her cat. The third story is about Aoi who has shut herself up after the death of her friend and her cat, Cookie, whom she meets at a time when she needs it the most. The last one is about Shino, a woman who dedicates her life to her family members and forgets to enjoy life at all until a neighborhood cat, Kuro, gives her lessons in real freedom.

In this review, I would talk about a few things that I liked in the book and those that I didn’t. The running theme in the book as also mentioned above is community, communication, connectedness. It stresses on the significance of being connected to our community, to our people in this fast-paced world because communication is one of those things that holds solutions to many problems of the world. Till the time Aoi keeps herself shut inside her house, she remains emaciated and bad-tempered but once she goes outside in order to look for her cat, she feels much better. Later when she starts working and starts participating in the world, she manages to get out of her slump.

Similarly, once Shino finds freedom in her connection with Kuro and later finds her purpose in teaching her nephew, she finally gets some happiness in life. One cannot live life in isolation, let alone thriving in it. One needs someone to communicate to, be it people or even pets. The relation between the cats and their owners is strong in this book as the cats sit by their owners’ side during hard times.

The book has also got shifting points of narration throughout and it is where we get to witness the points of view of all the four main cats. It is where we learn more about their emotions and their behaviors. Chobi, Mimi, Cookie, and Kuro, all are concerned for the troubles their female owners are going through and at the same time feel proud of being their cat. That’s why I have italicized her in the third paragraph because it is like that in the book when one of these cats says to another, “I’m her cat.” Apart from this, we are told about cat behaviors— how they don’t like strong/strange smells and noisy places, how each cat has its territory, etc.

Coming to the imagery used in the book, I am impressed with the depictions:

When I breathed, the windowpane fogged up and I couldn’t see out. The light from an automatic vending machine in the street blurred on the misted glass. It looked beautiful. Snow was piling up around the traffic lights and the post-box, and everything looked fresh and dazzling.

The descriptions are clear enough to make you get the whole picture. One more thing that I would like to point out is the correlation between the phases in the lives of the cat owners (Miyu, Reina, Aoi and Shino) and the seasons of the year. The progression of the lives of these women corresponds with the progression of seasons in the book with the winter season clashing with the lowest points in their lives. I like it this way because the undertone or the temperament of the winter season aptly represents the grim phase of life.

A major shortcoming of this book is that it has unnecessarily included a hoax philosophy through the character of the dog, Jon, which does not even contribute anything to the story and is not reasonable. The writer could have easily eliminated it. Hence, I had to skip those pages (35, 36, 117, 118, 123, 124) while reading and you should too.

As far as the quality of translation is concerned, it is good no doubt and there are no errors. The language is free flowing and smooth. That’s all I have to say about the Japanese novel, She and Her Cat.

I believed things like happiness and misfortune depended on how you saw things. … Failing to get into university was a misfortune, but then I was happy because it meant I could work out what I wanted to do with my life.

— Makoto Shinkai, She and Her Cat