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I Am A Cat (吾輩は猫である)

i am a cat soseki natsume

Before I completely forget the contents of this book, I figured I better write a little something about I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume. (Soseki Natsume was born just a few minutes to the east of where we currently live in Nishi-Waseda and his grave is just a few minutes to the north.) This was the last book I’m planning on reading in English while in Japan. I finished it more than a month ago so the details are a bit foggy at this point.

This is one of those books that you constantly hear about and see referenced in other works so you feel a little behind the times not having read it. Now I’ll at least know what people are talking about. The version I read was only the first of three volumes. The setting is the Japan of a little more than a hundred years ago (as that is when it was written). The author takes the role of a cat, sort of a “fly on the wall” who no one is afraid to talk in front of and who can creep into any conversation without being detected.

The book is occasionally hilarious, frequently witty, always observant of Japan then (and now as things don’t seem to have changed much), but sometimes dull. Even though I laughed out loud at times, I was bored at others and did not feel as inspired by the end to want to read the next two volumes.

The introduction by the translators was too long and overdone if I remember correctly. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages. Maybe I only find it funny because I know so many teachers.

“My master seldom comes face to face with me. I hear he is a schoolteacher. As soon as he comes home from school, he shuts himself up in the study for the rest of the day; and he seldom emerges. The others in the house think that he is terribly hard-working. He himself pretends to be hard-working. But actually he works less hard than any of them think. Sometimes I tiptoe to his study for a peep and find him taking a snooze. Occasionally his mouth is drooling onto some book he has begun to read…

There are times when even I, I a mere cat, can put two thoughts together. ‘Teachers have it easy. If you were born a human, it’s best to become a teacher. For if it’s possible to sleep this much and still to be a teacher, why, even a cat could teach.’ However, according to the master, there’s nothing harder than a teacher’s life and every time his friends come round to see him, he grumbles on and on.”

One Response to “I Am A Cat (吾輩は猫である)”

  1. 1
    Gail:

    What an excellent passage to quote! Haha!! I’ve heard about this book and seen it in the store and often felt tempted to finally buy it. Thanks for telling us what you think of it!

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