Literature Reviews

Review: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

THE GUEST CAT

Rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)

Title: The Guest Cat

Author: Takashi Hiraide

Genre: Contemporary

Where to buy: The Guest Cat

Summary: A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife — the days have more light and colour. (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: death, blood.


What I liked…

The central character, Chibi, is the focus of the novella, and the best thing about that, is that Chibi is an adorable, adventurous cat! Takashi Hiraide creates a wonderful little personality in Chibi, whose view of the world inspires interest in a married couple. The couple, in question, live rather dull lives until they meet little Chibi.

“For me, Chibi is a friend with whom I share an understanding, and who just happens to have taken on the form of a cat.” (Chapter 8, p.36)

The story is told from the husband’s perspective, but I particularly liked this poignant comment from his wife who is attached to Chibi. As a cat owner, I identified with this sentiment. Cats or any pets are wonderful presences in our lives, and often we take them granted. The couple’s relationship with Chibi is significant as the cat does not belong to them, but they have a great fondness for Chibi and vice versa.

I also enjoyed the way Hiraide described Chibi playing because I often wonder what goes through my cat’s head when she sees something to pounce on. Do cats see the world differently to us? I think that is the question Hiraide poses to the reader.

Suddenly climbing a tree she would transform herself into lightning. Normally, lightning travels down from the sky, but Chibi ran up.” (Chapter 15, p.68)

There are quite a few references to lightning throughout the novella. I loved this metaphor as it conveyed Chibi’s kittenish personality and energy. Moreover, the latter sentence conveys the idea that Chibi is a supernatural being, that she exists between worlds. This is further confirmed in the story as the cat drifts between two households, the couple and the actual owners.

What I disliked…

There is a lot of information in the book that I was not expecting. I expected a poignant story about a couple’s friendship with a cat, not external historical details which did not impact the narrative in any way.

Why did I read it?

I rarely read books about animals, so I thought I should change it up. I was also intrigued by the title because cats.

Does the author have other works?

While this is Hiraide’s only novella, he has written poetry collections, For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut and Postcards to Donald Evans.

Overall…

If you like descriptive, poetic short stories about lovely little cats, then this is for you.

– Melissa Jennings

Literature Reviews

Review: Preparing My Daughter For Rain by Key Ballah

preparing

Rating: ★★★ (3 stars)

Title: Preparing My Daughter For Rain

Author: Key Ballah

Genre: Poetry

Where to buy: Preparing My Daughter For Rain

Summary: A book of lessons dedicated to our daughters and future daughters, on how to survive. (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: mention of scars, mental illness, mention of self-induced vomiting, threat, misandry, racism.

What I liked…

Key Ballah’s title of her poetry collection is incredibly powerful. It immediately establishes the intention and tone of the collection. The cover is an image of a woman and a child, who I am presuming is Key Ballah and her mother, which creates an intimate quality to the poetry.  The poetry collection is divided into four sections: The Body, The Heart, The Land, and the Soul. The names refer to areas that Ballah wishes her future child to nurture in particular, which I found rather beautiful.

I identified with some of Ballah’s poetry, but I identified more with Ballah’s lines – some of them contained worlds and ultimately inspired me!

These are your body politics,

it’s okay not to trust yourself.

(The Body, p.9)

This particular line hit me hard. Ballah articulates mental illness and/or low self-esteem as something that governs us while at the same time tries to gain our trust by deception, or rather unhealthy coping mechanisms.

I carry in my mouth,

all of the words that my mother never

got a chance to speak into me.

(The Land, p.58)

The Land section is my favourite, but this particular opening line stood out to me. Ballah informs the reader that not only has she written the words for her future child, but she has carried her words. Furthermore, Ballah desires to input those words into her child, this is a special type of metaphor called a conduit metaphor. The idea of speaking words into someone articulates that we are containers of thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

What I disliked…

So, I started reading this poetry collection with the idea that it would be feminist due to the title. However, I suddenly became uncomfortable. Ballah begins to discuss that women are beautiful (which I agree that they are), then how “blessed” her daughter is to be a woman.

Moreover, Ballah assumes in this poem that her daughter will be heterosexual.

When he says your name like tidal waves

and kisses you like a midnight in July.

Hold him close,

project your thanks to the heavens,

and find that you’ve been waiting for

in the closeness of your skin.

(The Heart, p.30)

I again understand the intention with this poem, but why not make it gender-neutral as Ballah cannot possibly know the sexuality of her future child. Also, the child may be asexual or aromantic! Why assume anything at all?

Then, Ballah implies that men are lazy for not being able to handle a woman.

I only ever asked him

to love me deeply

and earnestly,

but he still turned around

and said,

that I was too heavy

that I was asking too much,

that he was only one man.

After him I learned,

that sometimes,

it takes two men to do,

the work of one woman.

(The Heart, p.42)

I acknowledge Ballah’s intention with this particular piece, but its impact came across as misandristic.

Next, Ballah draws on a well-known story about Adam and Eve, but states that Adam is an affliction upon Eve:

The bible says,

that Eve’s sin was punished by pain in

child birth

But the older I get and the more that I

see,

It has become clear to me that Eve’s

punishment wasn’t the pain,

her punishment was Adam himself.

(The Heart, p.44)

I find the resolution of the poem a rather radical statement, which comes across as misandristic. Additionally, if you view Eve as women and Adam as men, the poem comes across as really resentful and hostile towards men.

Why did you read it?

I love reading fellow indie poets’ work! The title drew me in.

Does the author have other works? 

Key Ballah has written another poetry collection titled Skin & Sun.

Overall…

If you enjoy poetry that contains positive affirmations and universal truths, then this is probably for you. However, I think the collection needs revising in certain areas as sometimes, its impact overruled its intention.

– Melissa Jennings