Two Unusual Novels With Unique Cat Protagonists
September 24, 2023
Cats and books


The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie

The Dalai Lama’s cat is simple-minded, self-centered and a bit silly, yet completely adorable. Rescued from a slum in Delhi by His Holiness himself, the naughty little kitten comes of age in the hallowed halls of the home and office of the Dalai Lama and in the dusty streets of Dharamsala. 

Lovingly cared for by the Dalai Lama’s staff, adored by Mrs. Trinci, the feisty Italian chef who comes over to cook special meals for visiting dignitaries and also by Franc the pretentious owner of the eponymous cafe, the cat is called by many names including HHC (His Holiness’ cat), Rinpoche (precious), little Snow Lion and the Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived. 

With full freedom to roam around the elite surroundings HHC witnesses deep conversations between the Dalai Lama and his celebrity guests, receives the best morsels of food from the kitchen and is pampered by the townspeople. It doesn’t take long for HHC to become self-centered and arrogant. 

Through the eyes of HHC, we learn about the routines of the monks in the monastery, the bustle of the kitchen at Jokhang and the busy schedule of the Dalai Lama, not just when he is traveling but also when he returns to Dharamsala. Lucky HHC gets to sit in on profound conversations with international public figures. The author imparts gentle lessons in Buddhism through everyday adventures of this seemingly innocent feline protagonist.

Readers are introduced to simple concepts such as remembering to be in the moment and finding happiness by focusing on others instead of one’s outer success, to complex ones like the role of karma which needs both a seed (cause) and the right conditions to germinate. Yet not everything that happens in this delightful book is serious and heavy. HHC discovers the discomfort of too much self-centeredness through furballs, experiences unexpected stirrings of romantic feelings after an encounter with a street cat and becomes a surprise international sensation when a not-so-pleasant aspect of her life goes viral. 

Alongside the transformation of HHC from a scrappy kitten to an overweight one and then a wise cat, we get ringside seats to the changes that happen to the humans around her. Franc gets a real teacher and finally understands the basic tenets of Buddhism which leads to a major shift in how he runs his cafe. This in turn impacts a diffident cafe regular who finds a new way of life. 

From everyday issues like dealing with anger to more existential issues of religious worship, many anecdotes drive home important lessons. Serious practitioners of Buddhism may feel that the tone of the book is too simplistic but that seems to be the hallmark of author David Michie who has written several similar bestsellers. 

My opinion: An easy read and an intro to Buddhism, through the eyes of an impish cat.

The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Translated by Philip Gabriel, Audiobook narrated by Gearge Blagden

I am not really a cat lover. While I like animals but do not have any pets, given a choice, I might lean more towards dogs. No surprisingly, I was surprised that I began reading my second book with a cat protagonist in 2023.

Nana is just a street cat, one with a tail shaped like the number seven which lives a scrappy life until it gets injured by a car. Like any street cat, it knows whom to approach for help – Satoru, the kind man who leaves him treats under his car. The accident turns out to be a lucky break for the feline because after his treatment and recovery, Nana becomes Satoru’s cat.

The narrative switches between third person and Nana and we get to accompany Satoru and Nana as they drive across the country to find a new home for Nana. For most of the narrative, we are kept in the dark about the reason for Satoru, who seems to be a kind, gentle and loving pet owner who simultaneously is looking for a suitable home for his pet but is also reluctant to part with him.

The story takes us to unknown and known places in Japan and introduces us to Satoru’s friends, from school and college and through dialogs and reminiscences we get to piece together Satoru’s back story. We also get to know about his deep affection for Hachi, his first cat and understand Satoru’s difficult childhood yet how those difficulties don’t make him selfish or bitter. At each of the friend’s homes, Nana seems to find something unsuitable and Satoru, who is completely in tune with his pet, agrees. 

Nana is a cat with strong opinions and a distinct personality who argues on behalf of his species about why they find human’s incomprehensible. The quirks and nuances of a cat’s life and his interactions with other species are described in humorous vignettes. We also get to see how humans behave with those they love and those they don’t understand.

Throughout the story, Satoru comes across as a truly special person but Nana also shines with his dry wit and on point observations. It is easy to get attached to the duo and agree with Satoru as he thanks each of his friends, Kosuve, Yoshimine, Sugi and Chikako and heads to his final destination, his aunt’s house, with Nana in tow.

The book is not about travel although we are treated to gorgeous descriptions of Japan’s seasons and prefectures, it is not about friendship – between humans and between humans and their pets, it is about grief, loss and carry on on nevertheless, something both humans and animals have to encounter and learn to live with.

I didn’t expect to be moved by what seemed to be a simple story, but I was. Because it’s the simple things in life that leave their mark on you, like this book.

My opinion: Recommended for those looking for a worthwhile read, and for all animal lovers.

Photo by Steve Smith on Unsplash

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