If Cats Were to Disappear from the Earth

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If Cats Were to Disappear from the Earth
Author: Genki Kawamura
Specifications: ISBN  978-4094060867
221 pages
13.2 x 19.5 cm / 5.2 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Magazinehouse
Tokyo, 2012
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


The 30-year-old narrator, a mailman, goes to the doctor with a persistent cold one Monday, only to be told that he has a grade IV brain tumor and very little time to live. He stumbles home in a daze, where he is greeted not only by his beloved cat named Cabbage but by a cheery-looking fellow, dressed in shorts and a flashy Hawaiian shirt, who looks just like himself. The man claims to be the Devil and says he’s there to inform the narrator of his impending demise the very next day. But he has also come with a special offer: in exchange for making one thing in the world disappear, the narrator can have one extra day of life. And so begins a very bizarre week.

After some discussion, the Devil proposes to make phones disappear, but says the narrator can first make one last call. Scrolling through the contacts list on his mobile, the narrator is taken aback: he sees no one he really wants to talk to. He finally remembers an old girlfriend who’s not on the list and calls her. Then with a blink of the Devil’s eyes, his phone vanishes. Tuesday, on his way to meet the woman he called, no one he sees around town is carrying a phone anymore.

On Wednesday, the Devil says he will make movies disappear, but again allows the narrator one last film. Agonizing over what to watch, the narrator recalls the first time his parents took him to the movies as a child, reflecting on the important place movies have had in his life and thinking about what sort of film his own life would make. The following day, clocks disappear from the Earth. Freed from their tyranny, the narrator realizes how neglectful he has been of his parents as he fixated on his own immediate concerns; long estranged from his father, he has not talked to him since his mother died of cancer four years before. The Devil next proposes to eliminate cats, and the narrator must decide by the end of the day on Friday whether he wants this to happen. He has not yet made up his mind when Cabbage goes missing. During the subsequent search, the narrator reads a note left behind by his mother: her last wish had been that he bury the hatchet with his father.

In the end, he tells the Devil he does not want cats to disappear, and the Devil gives him a brief respite to put his effects in order. On Saturday, as he is cleaning out his apartment, he discovers at the back of the closet a box of treasures from when he was little. Among its contents are a large number of old stamps his father had given him on various special occasions. The interest those stamps sparked in him had ultimately led him to a career with the post office. He decides he will ask his father to take care of Cabbage, and pens a long letter to him?the novel is in effect this letter?in which he expresses all the things the past week has made him realize about life. As he is about to post the letter the following day, Sunday, he changes his mind and gets on his bicycle with Cabbage to pay his father a final visit in person.

Each item the Devil makes vanish causes the narrator to reflect on different aspects of his past, and through these reflections he becomes a symbol of countless others in contemporary society who have gotten caught up in the rat race, putting personal convenience first and losing sight of the most important things in life. The cheery, Hawaiian-shirted Devil and the cat to whom he gives the power of speech inject a hearty dose of humor into the story in spite of the looming proximity of death, but beneath it all the author sounds a cautionary note: not to overlook the light that sparkles within the countless quotidian interactions and events we all take for granted.