Monday, February 15, 2010

'I Am a Cat' Volume Three (JLit Read-along)


Welcome to the discussion for the third, and final, volume of  I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume.

Historical and Cultural Context

However, anyone interested in deepening his understanding of this fascinating subject is always welcome to call upon me, bearing a proper fee in dried bonito, for further instruction. (p. 369)
Dried bonito, or katsuobushi, is a staple ingredient in Japanese cooking.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

One may reasonably compare this process to the happenings in September 1905 when the populace of Tokyo, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth, took to burning police boxes. (p. 374)

The first thing he noticed was a photo of Itō Hirobumi standing on his head. (p. 488)

The progressive positivism of Western civilization has certainly produced some notable results, but, in the end, it is no more than a civilisation of the inherently dissatisfied, a culture for unhappy peoples. The traditional civilization of Japan does not look for satisfaction by some change in the condition of others but in that of the self. The main difference between the West and Japan is that the latter civilization has developed on the basic assumption that one's external environment cannot be significantly changed. ... If some mountain range blocks our free passage to a neighboring country, we do not seek to flatten the mountain, to restructure the natural order. Instead we work out some arrangement under which the need to visit that neighboring country no longer arises. (p. 416)

Since I know so little of the world outside my master's house, it was only recently that I first clapped eyes on a go board.  It's a weird contraption, something no sensible cat would ever think up.  It's a smallish square divided into myriad smaller squares on which the players position black and white stones in so higgledy-piggledy a human fashion that one's eyes go askew to watch them... (p. 544)

Image courtesy of wikipedia


I've included a few questions below to start the discussion, but as always feel free to ask any other questions you may have or comment on any aspect of the book.

What did you think of Volume Three? How does it compare to the previous two volumes?
Do you have a favourite scene from Volume Three?
Did the characters seem real and believable? Could you relate to any of them?
This book is obviously satire, what do you think Sōseki Natsume was trying to say to the reader?
Several references are made throughout the book about the negative consequences of adopting Western values. (See example quote above). Do you think this represents the author's world view?
How do you feel about the ending?
Why does this book continue to appeal to modern-day readers over 100 years after it was originally written?
Overall, what did you think of the translation? And the book as a whole? Are you glad you read it? Would you recommend it to others? Have you read other works by this author? If not, will you do so now?
[Your Question Here...]

Reminder: Comments may contain spoilers, so please read at your own risk. I'd suggest clicking the box to subscribe to comments so that you will be notified when new comments are left on this post.

If you've posted about Volume Three, or reviewed the book as a whole, on your own blog, please let me know and I'll update this post with any links.

Soseki Natsume fountain pen
Luxury fountain pen commemorating I am a Cat, produced by Danitrio.
Image © Stylophiles

Previous posts:
'I Am a Cat' Volume One
'I Am a Cat' Volume Two

Thanks so much to everyone who joined in the read-along. I hope you enjoyed the book, and I hope you'll consider participating in some of the other Japanese Literature read-alongs scheduled this year. Next up will be The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami which will run for three months from March to May. The discussion for Book One will begin on March 15th. Hope to see you there!

The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.


  1. I dare not read your complete post (yet) because I am SO behind! :( I seem to be stuck in part 3 and it really keeps me from reading at all. *sigh*

    What did _you_ think of this 3rd volume -- should I hang in there or give it up?

  2. gnoegnoe - Sorry to hear you're stuck in volume 3. I was so behind too I actually read most of volume 3 on Sunday and Monday! And I actually have the last 50 or so pages still to read and should hopefully finish tonight or tomorrow. So I'm hoping others are in the same boat and someone will come discuss the book.

    Honestly, when I started the 3rd volume I had a hard time getting momentum too, but do hang in there. It gets more interesting again, at least I found so. Maybe just skim the bits that are slow-going until the pace picks up again. But there's no pressure to finish if you're really struggling with it. You can always just comment here with what didn't work for you. :)

  3. Well, I'm hanging in there -- the 2nd chapter is definitely better than the 1st! I 'only' have 110 more pages to go, so the end is near ;)

    I found the first chapter of volume 3 quite tedious, the cat going on and on about a topic that wasn't really that interesting. The second chapter has more variety, a better pace and more 'stuff' about life in Japan in the early 1900's.

    Still, it is not going to end up as one of my favourite reads...

  4. gnoegnoe - I completely agree with you that volume 3 starts out very dull indeed. Luckily, once I got further in, the tone seemed to change and there were some incidents that made me chuckle.
    Good luck finishing off the rest! I hope you'll still consider coming back here to chat about it once you do finish. And I suppose I need to write a proper review of it soon. :)

  5. Oh yes, I will definitely come back to discuss once I've finished reading :)

    I still want to come and discuss The Old Capital too... once I've written a post about it ;)

  6. gnoegnoe - Sounds good. I still haven't posted my review of The Old Capital either!! Good luck with I Am a Cat.


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