One of the things on my bucket list is to visit Japan and immerse myself in their culture. I find it extremely fascinating- their lifestyle, food, traditions- and in order to prep myself for my trip to Japan, I’ve been watching a lot of NHK television (Japanese channel that showcases their culture, traditions, customs, lifestyle etc).
Another thing I am doing is reading up on Japanese authors. Haruki Murakami is one of the world’s most widely read Japanese authors—and Pakistanis love Murakami like anything. He’s often quoted and referenced almost everywhere, so much so, it feels like he’s the only Japanese author out there. I find him a tad bit over-rated—he’s a brilliant writer no doubt, but the praise he gets does seem overwhelming at times.
Having said that, there are loads of other Japanese authors who I feel deserve to be read, and one such author is Genki Kawamura. His book If Cats Disappeared from the World was one that kept me up late into the night (precisely 330am was when I finished the book because I just had to find out the ending!)
His book has sold over more than a million copies in Japan alone and has even been produced into a film in 2016, with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The book has been translated into English by Eric Selland.
The premise of the book is simple, but don’t be fooled by its size. This is a little book (202 pages) with huge, larger than life ideas!
We are told that this young man has been diagnosed with a grade 4 brain tumor and doctors have told him he has months to live. That night, the young man, who lives with his pet cat Cabbage, is visited by the Devil, who offers him an interesting deal: you will be allowed to live for an extra day, provided you sacrifice something. So, the young man’s journey begins, as he sacrifices phones, movies and clocks, and even comes to the point where he contemplates sacrificing his cat Cabbage.
With each of his sacrifice, the young man is linked to a relation, from his ex-girlfriend to his best friend, to his father and mother. These are the highlights of the book as old relationships are brought up in flashbacks, and with enough emotional intensity, it sucked me in further into this man’s life.
What would I have done in his situation? What would I have sacrificed in my life? How would I want to spend the last few days? And would I really make a deal with the devil to live for an extra day? There are enough emotions flowing through the words of the writer that actually got me into the mind of the young man.
It’s a book about loss and reconciliation. It’s about the importance of human connections and relations in our lives. It’s about figuring out whether material goods are worthy or not. And it’s about a cat that can completely transform a human being.
The one huge thing that stood out for me in the book was the idea that one cannot attain anything in life till one sacrifices something. This idea is repeated several times, and it holds true in most cases. It is somewhat akin to the no pain, no gain philosophy. But it’s not all that simple, for when the young man sacrifices phones and movies, he thinks he will have a better life, but the consequences he endures are painful. So, it becomes a challenge to figure out what to sacrifice in life.
“In order to gain something, you have to lose something.
Mom said it was just obvious. People are always trying to get something for nothing. But that’s just theft. If you’ve gained something it means that someone, somewhere, has lost something. Even happiness is built upon on someone else’s misfortunes. Mom often told me this, she considered it one of the laws of the universe.” (page 39)
Genki Kawamura message is very clear, without being preachy: value those who are around you, evaluate what’s really important in your life and finally, enjoy your life for what it’s worth.
Surprisingly enough, despite it being a Japanese novel, translated into English, nothing has been lost in translation. I felt very connected to the young man, and the emotional journey he ventures on to. There is a lot of food for thought in this little gem of a book that can open up a wide-ranging discussion on life, death, loss, pain, fear, and love.