Latest Book Summary & Questions

In April, we read a humorous book from Japan called, I Am a Cat.

The majority of the book club discussion occurs in our online book club where we post 2-3 questions a day for almost a week at the end of the month. However, we also welcome discussion online here.

For reference, we've included a summary of the book below as well as all of the questions used for discussion. Beth & Mia alternate the choice of country & write up of the book summary. They each contribute approximately half of the discussion questions.

BOOK SUMMARY

A satirical novel told from the perspective of a disenchanted stray cat adopted into the family of a poor Japanese schoolteacher. Taking place during the Meiji era (the initial period during which Japanese society began moving from an isolated feudal society to its more modern form), many old customs and new worldly ideas are depicted in contrast. Spending the majority of his time watching the schoolteacher and his friends laze away the day debating ridiculous topics, this nameless cat documents the discussions and neighborhood activities sprinkling in his own ideas and biting comments.  

  • Baby-dear: Youngest female child of the Master.
  • Miss Blanche: Neighbor cat whose kittens were drowned in a pond.
  • Beauchamp Blowlamp: Friend of Coldmoon. Member of a reading group which acts out the books they read. Inexplicably proud of his rhyming name which is prounounced "Bo-champ Blowlamp".
  • The Cat: The feline main character who remains nameless. Somewhat pompous & cynical. While the story is told mainly from the perspective of this male cat, much of it is not about the cat at all. The story begins with him as a kitten & ends with him drowning in a rainwater vat drunk on beer.
  • Avalon Coldmoon: Young scholar & friend of the Master who courts Opula Goldfield. On a never-ending quest to write his thesis & gain the hand of Opula. His research into the "Effects of Ultraviolet Rays upon Galvanic Action in the Eyeball of the Frog" requires him to spend his days continuously trying to create a perfectly round glass ball. In the end, he marries someone else & gives up his thesis.
  • Mr. Goldfield: Businessman & neighbor of the Master. Known for his flattened face, squat body & bald head.
  • Mrs. Goldfield (aka Madam Conk): Neighbor of the Master. Known for her big nose. She hires & coerces people in her goal to marry off her daughter.
  • Opula Goldfield: Businessman's spoiled daughter courted by Avalon Coldmoon.
  • Kater Murr: German ghost cat who died a century ago & was living in Hell.
  • Master (aka Mr. Sneaze): The master of the Cat. A poor school teacher of English who is seen by the Cat as self-centered, lazy, dumb & often ill. 
  • O-san: Female servant of the family.
  • Rickshaw Blacky: Large, pure black feline. Ratcatcher for a rickshaw garage.
  • Mrs. Sneaze: Married to the Master. Has a bald spot atop her head.
  • Mr. Suzuki: Friend of the Goldfields who tries to help secure the marriage of Opula Goldfield to to Coldmoon.
  • Tonko: Eldest female child of the Master.
  • Tortoiseshell: Feline love interest of the cat. She dies & her owner provides a human-style funeral for her while blaming the Cat for giving her a fatal disease (untrue).
  • Sunko: Middle female child of the Master.
  • Waverhouse: Talkative & irritating friend of the Master who is always playing tricks on people.
  • Yukie: College-attendee niece of the Master.

Book Club Questions

  1. Beth: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), did you like this book—why or why not? 
  2. Mia: What name would you give the cat if you could? Or did you like that he was nameless? 
  3. Beth: Did you see a difference among the three different volumes contained in the omnibus? 
  4. Mia: What statement is the author making about the humans in the book? What about the cats in the book? Who comes out looking better?
  5. Mia: What are your impressions about Meiji Era Japan after reading the book? "Integrating Western cultural forms with an assumed, untouched native Japanese spirit was characteristic of Meiji society, especially at the top levels, and represented Japan's search for a place within a new world power system in which European colonial empires dominated." 
  6. Beth: Did you enjoy the translation (e.g., the use of British English terms)?   
  7. Beth: Have you ever read a satirical novel before? What did you think of the style? 
  8. Mia: Which cat character did you like most or find interesting, & why? 
  9. Beth: What did you think of the author's portrayal of cats in general (e.g., in terms of antics, play, etc.)?
  10. Mia: Did you like the way the book ended? Was it a surprise? Why or why not?