Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication Date: 4th June 2020
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In Tokyo - one of the world's largest megacities - a stray cat is wending her way through the back alleys. And, with each detour, she brushes up against the seemingly disparate lives of the city-dwellers, connecting them in unexpected ways.
But the city is changing. As it does, it pushes her to the margins where she chances upon a series of apparent strangers - from a homeless man squatting in an abandoned hotel, to a shut-in hermit afraid to leave his house, to a convenience store worker searching for love. The cat orbits Tokyo's denizens, drawing them ever closer.
This book is truly a one of a kind. Dozens of short chapters are woven together to create a picture of Tokyo on the run up to the 2020 Olympics (which, sadly, never happened in the real world). It is a story of how strangers’ lives can be interwoven in intricate, complicated ways.
It starts with a mysterious girl in a shady tattoo parlor in Asakusa, who asks for a tattoo of Tokyo across her back. We are privy to the whole process, the dozens of hours of pain required to bring this work of art to life. The girl and the tattoo art talk, become familiar, yet we really know very little about this strange young woman. As the city grows, the artist inking this masterpiece begins to suffer, and we watch his mind deteriorate to a disturbing conclusion.
From this bloody scene, we meet the homeless of the streets, young people, old people, those in love and those disillusioned by it. Each story seems strangely detached from the previous one to start with, but then details grow familiar; the young man who works at the convenience store, the cat who roams the streets, passing between these lives without a care in the world.
Sometimes the cat offers companionship to the lonely and vulnerable; he is a hero in these stories. And then sometimes the cat is a catalyst, causing hurt, or even being hurt. I loved the cat motif throughout the book, and I think the author was incredibly clever with how he worked the animal into the lives of every character. I always enjoyed the moment the cat slipped into the scene, sometimes just with a mention, other times as the starring role. I don’t know whether I loved or loathed the cat. I don’t think it really cared whether it brought happiness or sadness in its wake; he was fickle.
It was a beautiful read. I loved seeing Tokyo in a less glamourised light; we got to meet the dark backstreets, the uncomfortable commutes, a city cruel to those who can’t keep up. As a tourist of Tokyo a few years ago, I saw all of its beauty with I visited, so it was actually powerful and shocking to see this side of it.
An absolutely treasure of a find, I think anyone with a fondness for Tokyo and for the relationships between strangers (and cats!), will get a lot out of reading this.
Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts?