—‘Forever and ever I am your cat, Satoru.’ (Arikawa and Gabriel)
These are the words any cat owner would love to hear from their pets if they could speak. Hiro Arikawa’s novel The Travelling Cat Chronicles ingeniously reinvents the talking animal trope through the powerful voice of the narrator of the text, Nana.
Nana is a proud stray cat, which Satoru rescues after being hit by a car. In the beginning, Nana is somewhat appalled by being forced into Satoru’s life since he has always lived independently on the streets of Tokyo. Yet, Nana realises that he and Satoru are more alike than he believed at first. Like Nana, Satoru is a lonely soul who has learnt to reinvent himself to face adversities. This becomes clear when Satoru and Nana embark on the journey of their lives: a road trip through the fields of Japan in hopes of finding Nana an owner. As Satoru and Nana’s journey unfolds, we realise that the answer to their issues was always in front of their eyes; but will they be able to acknowledge the truth and heal together?
The main narrator of The Travelling Cat Chronicles is Nana, and Arikawa masterfully exploits his status as a pet to shape a complex plot. The plot of the novel can be divided into five self-contained stories within the main narrative. The distinction between the frame narrative and the stories told within is marked by an interchange between Nana’s strong and charismatic presence, and his detached position as a storyteller who overhears these stories. This change of tone helps create humour, as Nana’s blunt comments at the end of these stories come out as unexpectedly witty and sarcastic. For instance, after relating Kosuke’s tragic story, Nana notes:
‘And still, Kosuke could never bring himself to stand up to his father and argue back.
ME, ON THE other hand, I’m not like that. If things aren’t good, I have no problem saying so. Because cats are creatures that can say no. And the idea of being taken into the home of a man because he hoped that his wife, who likes cats, would be tempted back? I swear, with all the feline dignity I can muster, this gets a definite no from me.’
(Arikawa and Gabriel)
The change of tone is clearly marked even graphically through the use of capital letters. We feel as if we hear Nana’s expansive voice and one cannot resist chuckling at Nana’s self-awareness of cats’ temperamental nature.
Flashforwards, Flashbacks and Memory
It is often said that an author which tries to be humorous, serious, emotional and even frightening at times may be over-egging the pudding. Arikawa, however, manages to handle these switches of register through her adept use of flashforwards and flashbacks. The flashbacks of various characters come out as particularly touching since the third-person narration tricks readers into believing they are prying into their memories. Making Nana’s presence unnoticeable gives these episodic encounters an almost photography-like quality, which helps in shaping the various themes addressed in The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
Themes, Imagery and Symbolism
In typical Japanese fashion, Arikawa’s novel juxtaposes the ephemerality of life with the everlasting quality of true feelings. As I have previously suggested, flashforwards and flashbacks are used to literally verbalise the fragile quality of time. In The Travelling Cat Chronicles, living five years can take a sentence (Truss), or it can take an entire novel. No matter what, stories do have an end, as how Nana points out, but that should not make us sad (Arikawa and Gabriel) because death cannot kill feelings in Arikawa’s philosophy. To allude to this idea, Arikawa’s imagery is fixated on the openness of the horizon, the roads and the fields that Nana and Satoru spot throughout their trip. In fact, the fields with flowers become a major symbol in the novel for the immensity of feelings. If Nana is at first terrified by the grandness of nature, guided by Saroru, the cat finds his forever home in an unexpected place: in a field with purple and yellow flowers.
Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a stimulating reading fit for a wide audience. Whether you are sixteen or eighty, you can easily resonate with the characters and the themes featured in the novel. Innocent and mature, Arikawa is an author unafraid to show us that the simplest act in life, that of feeling, can teach us a myriad of lessons.
Arikawa, Hiro, and Philip Gabriel. The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Illustrated, Berkley, 2018.
Truss, Lynne. ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa Review – Superior Pet Lit.’ The
Guardian, 22 Feb. 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/17/travelling-cat- chronicles-hiro-arikawa-review.