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Coming of age & taking responsibility

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By Rati Agnihotri

‘The Cat Who Saved Books’, by Sosuke Natsukawa.

Rintaro Natuski is your usual Japanese high school boy living in a small town in Japan. Nothing remarkable about him! Not, at least, at first sight! But Rintaro is passionate about books, and this passion is what changes his life trajectory as a mysterious talking cat walks into his life and helps him rescue books.

Rintaro’s grandfather runs a unique bookshop, and his sudden demise forces Rinatro to come face to face with a different reality. He is supposed to continue his studies, run the bookshop, and sort out his life. The mysterious cat makes him arrive at a greater understanding of his own self as he courageously crosses multiple labyrinths rescuing books!

The plot of ‘The Cat Who Saved Books sounds almost Harry Potteresque. And yet it’s not a children’s book. It’s a wonderful novel that makes apt use of fantasy and magic realism to make us think hard about the importance of books and their plight in today’s world.

For a book lover and animal lover, the title itself is clickbait. And the book doesn’t disappoint. It’s the most unusual story of a high school Japanese kid passing through strange labyrinths, meeting crazy people, and rescuing books. The cat is the one to initiate him into all these adventures and make him understand his own hidden courage and self-worth.

You could also call ‘The Cat Who Saved Books’ the ‘bildungsroman’ of Rintaro Natsuki, his coming of age, as he gets transformed from a shy, awkward, and meek teenager to a confident person who isn’t afraid to take charge of his own life.

Written in a style typical of most Japanese fiction, the book takes an ordinary real-life setting with ordinary characters and transforms it into a modern-day fable through its quirky, eccentric, and extraordinary treatment. The book essentially follows the structure of a fairy tale in that there is someone in distress, who needs to be helped, then there emerges a divine intervention in the form of a cat to help him out, and finally, all ends well.

It would be apt to call ‘The Cat Who Saved Books’ a modern-day fairytale about books. The talking cat of the book is not your meek, cute cat, but a somewhat bossy seer-like figure who makes Rintaro realise his own extraordinary love for books. The novel makes us reflect on many problems faced by books in the present-day world – over-commercialisation of books, obsession with bestsellers, quantity over quality, etc.

The novel is an easy read, and the narrative structure is linear and easy to follow. For those of you who prefer complex tales with non-linear narrative styles and multiple characters, this might not be the ideal book. You might find its pace a bit too slow for your liking.

But for the quintessential book lover and animal lover, this is a great book to read!