Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles: A Review

Kij Johnson's The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles (illustrator: Goñi Montes) is a novella length cat-astrophe-in-progress set in (presumably) medieval Japan at a time when cats were still very rare in Japan.  At the moment there is a free online version here.

Front cover picture

Kij Johnson is a fantasy and science fiction writer.  She has won both the Hugo and Nebula for short fiction for The Man Who Bridged the Mist.  She has been an editor for Tor, but recently took a position with the University of Kansas English Department.
I did see a little poetic summary (here) of our story:
In Japan lived a cat who was small
with her aunts by a gardened old hall,
but the earth shook and turned
and the garden was burned
so the cat ran away from it all.
It's a fuzzy (or at least furry) little feel good story about a cat who looses its home and extended family after a massive earth quake, followed by a city wide conflagration that burns down the abandoned building that an extended family of cats has been living in.  The small black cat is left without home or family.   Fearing her family story (fudoki) will be lost, she heads North to find the place where one of her original ancestors came from.
Along the way she begins to understand more about the world, meets variously (mostly) helpful people, and has a number of interesting little adventures.  She learns that it is important to never give up hope, and that everyone has some sort of story of their own.  Although she realizes that "North" is a bit larger of a place than she first thought, curiosity and a sense of purpose make her continue on through adversity.
It is a nice story.  I might read it to my eight year old, but I am not sure what to do about the nice illustrations (see one example below) that are washed out in my black and white LED screen.  Since at his age, he might be inclined to want to copy them down in one of his notebooks, it is particularly problematic.
Our descriptive ratings (1 to 7: 7 is high) are easy.  It is not Realistic, in the sense that it is an adventure you or your family might experience.  Beside the fact that it takes place in as early as the 6th century, most people don't think that cats, or other animals, have a word based language that they can understand amongst themselves:  Think Watership Down.  It's a 1.
Readability is also easy.  It is a novella, you could probably read to a clever 6 year old.  It has lots of little episodic adventures.  It's a 7.

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