If Cats Disappeared From The World

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Oct 2018

Member Reviews

I'm not really sure what the author was trying to achieve here.  A world where things are bargained away day by day including cats which seems to be a straw too far.
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This short book caught me by surprise. At first, I thought it was a fairly shallow thought experiment about making things like phones disappear from the world.  And its easy conversational writing style confirms this.   Then it evolves into a book about grief and a young man facing his own mortality and ultimately the things that are important to him.

I do love first-person narrations.  The protagonist feels very three dimensional and well rounded, so much so, that the book feels autobiographical which it might be, up to a point.   There are only a handful of other characters.    His ex-girlfriend who he calls with his last phone call; Aloha, the devil who looks like the protagonist but with vastly different dress sense and a cat called Cabbage.  Not surprisingly they are not as concrete as the protagonist.   My favourite has to be the cat, who from partway through the tale starts talking, and with a posh (Japanese) accent (it's magic).
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If Cats Disappeared From The World has been translated from the original Japanese novel. The narrator of this book finds out that he hasn’t got long to live. In shock, in returns to his empty flat with only his cat for company.

Soon, he gets a visit from the Devil who claims he can offer a deal; one day extra of life in exchange for one thing disappearing from the world.

He considers the offer but then the stakes rise and he’s not sure it is such a good idea. Nothing else as I don’t want to spoil it.

He begins to look at his life and reevaluate. He begins to question how far he is willing to go.

The themes of this book reminded me a little of ‘All My Friends Are Superheroes,’ and like that book, I adored this one.

I am a cat lover and this was the main thing that drew me to this novel. The cat on the cover is incredibly cute! It reminded me of my cat.

The narrator has very relatable fears and regrets and I found myself having empathy with him a lot. There are some incredibly bittersweet moments. The subject matter is not necessarily an easy one but there are some lovely sections that will make you think but also make you smile.

My love of cats and what the narrator faces really did have me in a hysterical crying mess. This story is beautifully written. Being a novella, it’s a good, quick read – made quicker by the fact that I didn’t want to stop reading.

If Cats Disappeared from the World is a wonderful, sweet tale of making things right before it’s too late. I really recommend it.
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I liked this. A sweet and quirky book about learning what really matters in life and how to make the most of your time in it.
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Even before I started reading this book, I'd changed my mind about it a few times. It looked like it might be cheesy. But I have a weakness for stories about magic wishing schemes, and its premise is kind of like a Japanese Bedazzled. And the cover illustration is lovely, managing to be cute, very real and evocative of Japanese painting. The book is very short (in the paper edition, those 208 pages must have big print and a lot of white space) and it's eligible for the Booker International (albeit not the sort of title likely to be submitted or longlisted), so I figured, back in September, that I may as well request it on Netgalley. Then I regretted doing so, and decided henceforth to be much more selective with the ARCs I requested  (I've stuck to this). But I opened it and the first couple of pages gave an impression of something offbeat: a narrative voice like the kind of cynical, nihilistic young guy who's almost certainly hung out on 4chan. Potentially an interesting character to put in this situation.

"In a movie I saw once the heroine is about to die so makes a list of ten things she wants to do before she goes. What a lot of crap…

…so that would mean I’d have lived longer than Hendrix or Basquiat, but somehow it felt like I had a lot of unfinished business."

Today I read further, and I read the whole book. It's a fast read; the writing is of a level I'd expect of YA or older children's fiction, and it repeats or overtly explains obvious concepts in a fashion that adult literary novels rarely do, 

e.g “With great power comes great responsibility”. Peter Parker reminds himself in Spiderman, having developed super-powers…
[a few lines later] Come to think of it, having signed on the dotted line with the Devil, I was beginning to understand just what Spiderman must have gone through.

It has lazy, poorly-researched assumptions, which could be argued to be those of the narrator, but in a 'life-lessons' popular novel of this sort, the presentation makes them seem as if they are intended to be factual:, e.g. "I suppose loneliness is another thing that only human beings feel."; "they say that only humans have a concept of death"

And some things are poorly thought out: "whether it’s a happy death or an unhappy death depends on how you’ve lived your life." If the devil looks like unexpressed sides of oneself, would he even be devilish if he appeared to a sadistic criminal? An important letter is handed to the narrator at a time which makes little sense other than being convenient to the plot: a real person would have given it earlier, but then part of the story wouldn't have happened. Would the narrator really be capable of a bike ride on his last day? 

The book is, throughout, packed with ideas that, to many adults, will read like trite clichés, but which are new and fascinating realisations when one first thinks or hears of them in youth: 
e.g. "It seemed to me that there were all kinds of rules made up by human beings—rules that begin to fall apart when you look at them closely. I find myself coming to the realization that the ways we have of measuring things—like, say, temperature, or the reflection of light that produces color—are artificial human creations, just like time. Basically humans just applied labels to the things they sensed. From the perspective of the nonhuman world, hours, minutes, and seconds don’t exist."

But there's the occasional moment that most teenagers in Global North countries won't have yet witnessed or experienced in depth: "When a person becomes aware of their impending death, they have to make a compromise between the life they wish they could have led, and the reality of death" or "it’s the future you’ll never get to see that you regret missing the most when you die."


The narrator isn't as dark and provocative a character as I'd assumed, and hoped, from those early paragraphs. He is unassuming, ordinary and bland, and mostly defined by being cat owner and a film buff (his favourites are mainstream American movies; and of course he thinks about 'what my life would be like as a movie'), and by his relationship with his parents (mother deceased and missed; father distant). I suspect that, in Japan, the narrator would map to the herbivore type, although he has had a girlfriend, about whom he's still sentimental after several years apart. (Naturally, in the present of the book, she's a classic manic pixie dreamgirl.) This is a novel that would work better for Anglo audiences if its protagonist had stronger outlines and was a recognisable caricature for them (very ordinary characters can be made compelling by great writing, e.g. Arthur Dent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) - I think that, culturally, Kawamura's narrator doesn't translate too well. 

There is very little overt info about Japanese culture in the book - almost the only one is that "Around the time Cabbage first came to live with us as a kitten, Mom suddenly got into TV period dramas. (This was during the “My Boom” of the late 1990s when it seemed like everyone was adopting short-lived obsessive interests.)"

If Cats Disappeared from the World is even disappointing as a magic-wishes story, because the narrator doesn't get to make the "choices" himself. Unlike the devil in Bedazzled, who places his charge in the wished-for situation complete with unanitcipated pitfalls, Kawamura's one bullies the wisher into decisions, and then starts making them outright on his behalf. It's obviously another way of showing that devils, by nature, don't have people's best interests at heart, but for me, this did away with the escapist element of the story I'd been looking forward to. If the blurb had been clear about this - that the narrator doesn't actually get to make his own choices about what disappears from the world - I probably would never have wanted to read the book. 


Two elements were potentially more interesting in the connections they made to other aspects of culture. One was a series of references to other works. For those who know them, it may be more obvious what influences, if any, Kawamura has borrowed. Unfortunately I haven't read or watched them myself, and this book did not make me feel inspired to explore. (They were Soseki Natsume's I Am a Cat - which I want to read anyway at some point; an [unnamed] film by a Hong Kong director, set in Buenos Aires - which prompts the freshest idea and scene in the book, a young Japanese couple on holiday in Argentina - the manga Doraemon; and Charlie Chaplin's Limelight. I'm not a fan of Chaplin, and only enjoyed one of his films, The Gold Rush.)

The second is the idea of getting rid of stuff, and that there is too much unnecessary stuff in the world: 
“human beings just became more and more selfish. They started to make all sorts of new-fangled things—you know, all those little doodads you’re not sure you really need, making more and more, going on and on."

If Cats Disappeared from the World appears to have been published in Japan about 18 months after Marie Kondo's Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I have no idea if minimalism and decluttering were growing trends in Japan immediately before Kondo. A pared-down aesthetic has been associated with Japan in the West for decades, although it didn't necessarily relate to the way many real Japanese people kept their homes; British people I knew who'd lived in Japan (teaching English in the 90s and 00s) said that the flats were often, in practice, crammed with stuff. Did Kawamura's book resonate so strongly with the Japanese public at a time when Kondo was newish and popular, and because she was?

I'm glad I ended up reading this book after Yoko Tawada's Last Children of Tokyo / The Emissary, as it enabled a less immediately obvious connection. Tawada addresses the recent cultural popularity and idealisation of the Edo period in Japan (and to an extent elsewhere), showing characters living without modern consumer products and gadgets, using Edo-era simple technologies such as horses and carts and brushes rather than hoovers. Among the very few 20th-21st century technologies remaining are refrigerators, healthcare, disability aids and a few long-distance public transport vehicles - everything that might be commonly categorised as inessential has been stripped away. 

Tawada's book uses a much more interesting speculative fiction approach, and although Kawamura's could be seen as a response to some of the same trends (and perhaps even a reflection on how many resources Global North people use during their historically long average lifespans) the narrator's thoughts resemble dashed-off op-eds or casual forum posts. There is nothing you won't have seen before if you've read a few moans about the perniciousness of mobile phones:

"Lately it seemed like I was messing around on my stupid phone all the time, from morning till night, just before bed. I didn’t read many books anymore, and I didn’t read newspapers. DVDs I borrowed just piled up in my room unwatched. On the train on the way to work I was always looking at my phone. Even when I was watching a movie, I checked my phone regularly. And when I was eating. When my lunch break came around I got this terrible urge to look at my phone. Even when I was with Cabbage I’d end up looking at the phone instead of playing with him. Being such a slave to it made me hate myself…

When human beings invented the mobile phone, they also invented the anxiety of not having one.
But who knows, maybe we went through the same thing when people first started sending letters. It’s the same with the internet…

I had left the work of memory and even my ties to other human beings to my mobile phone. I no longer bothered to memorize anything. When you think about it, mobile phones have done something pretty scary to the human brain."

Kawamura comes out against the total banishing of classes of objects by making it literally the work of the devil (although it's pretty clear he thinks mobile phone usage is excessive), yet his arguments are weak and examples poor.
The narrator realises he needs his phone when he gets the time of an appointment wrong. If he'd been a few years older he'd have thought of writing it down.
" Once you start down that path, then even all those “unnecessary things” turn out to be important for some reason or another." or  If you’re trying to separate out the countless “meaningless things” in the world from everything else, you’ll eventually have to make a judgement about human beings, about our existence. 

The disappearance of clocks could have led to an interesting account of how business and society started behaving without them, but there's nothing about it at all - surely even someone with the ennui of the narrator would have been slightly curious. 

The book was not without moments that were moving, but I found a lot of it banal and formulaic. I am clearly not in its target audience.

I wouldn't recommend If Cats Disappeared from the World to most of my Goodreads friends, but it may appeal to readers who like Paulo Coelho and A Street Cat Named Bob.

I received a free Advance Review Copy ebook from the publishers, Picador UK, via Netgalley.
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The bizarre magical nature and sappy sentimentality of this was a complete surprise and not what I expected at all. The title is only tenuously linked to the story, there to sell the book than develop any real idea of the contents.
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Absolutely loved this thought-provoking concept, what really makes life worth living? Loved the style loved, the execution.
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If Cats Disappeared from the World is a short charming book, devourable in an afternoon, and while this does stifle it, giving it little room to slow down and breathe and contemplate the weight of it all, it does add to the stress and anxiety that the protagonist feels.

The book’s greatest strength comes in the form of the few pockets of breathing room we are afforded. Each new day is a new choice for our protagonist, and here another connection to his past is unveiled.

I would highly recommend reading this book.
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I thought that this book was an interesting premise with a lovely ending, but the formulaic chapter setting and the slightly stilted conversation didn’t do it for me.  I completely understand that as a translation from the original Japanese, there may well be nuances that are lost in that process. 
I did think that the story thinks it’s cleverer than it is – of course there are things more important than your phone, clocks and film. The narrator’s relationship with his cat is well described, as is the one with his father. It is a complicated and delicate set of conversations which was interesting, but ultimately it could have been an essay and not a novella.
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If Cats Disappeared from The World was a beautiful little book. Some books translated from another language lose something in translation, but Eric Selland did a wonderful job of making sure this one didn’t.

If Cats Disappeared from The World deals with love, life and loss in a wonderfully unique way.

The book begins with the narrator writing a letter to someone, a letter which opens with an unusual question:

“If cats disappeared from the world, how would the world change? And how would my life change?

And if I disappeared from the world? Well, I suppose nothing would change at all. Things would probably just go on, day after day…same as usual.”

He tells the unknown recipient that the letter will explain everything in the end and that is also his will and testament.

The narrator is 30 years old and was told by the doctor that he has a brain tumour and has only six months left to live.

When he found out he felt like he had so much left unaccomplished things that only he could do some when The Devil appeared to him out of the blue with a deal he couldn’t help but consider. For every thing he got rid of from the world he would get another day at life.

I have seen some people complain in reviews about the things that were chosen to disappear from the world, but those people are missing the point because it was never the narrator’s choice it was the devil who chose.

One thing that amused me was that the devil was contemplating getting rid of chocolate but after trying it for himself he decided to keep it.

On diagnoses the narrator contemplates his friendships and mostly finds them lacking, he is single so has no significant other to tell. His mother is dead and he is estranged from his father, in fact he feels like the only one who might miss him is his cat Cabbage.

As the book progresses the narrator examines his relationships with those who have been important in his life and the results are interesting. His mother, his father, an ex-girlfriend and a friend are all put under the spotlight.

As things disappear from the world the narrator examines what is important in life and what we and he can do without. This had the result of making me question what I would be happy to do without. For example, I don’t think I would be overly bothered if phones were no longer in the world or movies but if books disappeared I think that would be a the thing that made me decide it probably wasn’t worth it.

If Cats Disappeared from The World is one of my top books of the year.
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A touching and beautifully written book about life, death and what matters most to us. The narrators journey in the span of seven days is an emotional roller coaster as he ways up what things he could and couldn't live without. He meditates on his past relationships; his ex-girlfriend, old friends, his dead mother and estranged father and the two little cats who changed his life, Lettuce and Cabbage.
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One narrator and a cat called Cabbage. And the Devil... When the narrator is diagnosed with terminal cancer and limited time to live, the Devil (in the Narrator's guise but with some questionable fashion choices) appears with a seductive offer - I'll pick something to remove from the world, and in return you get an extra day of life.
The book, masterfully translated from Japanese,  shows the little things we take for granted everyday and how they can seem so much bigger to others. To the person who is waiting on a friend, having a clock to hand is vital. For the person for whom the world is complicated and even frightening, a movie can be a safe way to learn.
The author explores the themes of love, loss, the things we give up and the things we purposefully cast aside. A fascinating book with the most splendid feline I've had the joy of reading.
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The quirky nature of the story (a man with only a short-time to live makes a deal with the devil to get an extra day of life at the cost of removing a chosen thing from the world) led me to hope that it would be similar to the beautiful Cake Tree in the Ruins. Sadly Cats fell into all of the pitfalls that Nosaka so masterfully avoided. 

It is overly sentimental and leaves little or nothing for the reader to contemplate. Rather than plumbing any significant depths it provides ill-advised lamentations against things such as telephones and watches that are better suited to social media. There’s a lack of complexity that prevented it from touching me at all, leaving me to focus on the weaknesses of the execution. In particular it was let down by the writing style and/or translation. The writing was simplistic, saccharine and read like it had been written by a very young person or a very unsophisticated author and the repetitive, clichéd speech patterns just set my teeth on edge. A cat on the cover does not a worthwhile story make.
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A shame there is not much of a plot or story here. The original premise sounded interesting, but all the author has done is give their thoughts on what he thinks about how important things like watches, phones and cats are in the world. Very self indulgent, doesn't go anywhere.
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I found this book to be a strange tale, unbelievable and slightly wonderful all at the same time. Would recommend to family and friends.
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A quirky funny heartbreaking read that will make you want to grab life with all hands/paws! Not just for those who love our feline friends, this is simply a beautiful story about appreciating life.
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There’s a sparse and young, almost delicate sense to Genki Kawamura’s writing that cheered me up no end even though this was a book about death. The lightness to life and what we hold too close is really what this book is about. Kawamura is 39 and is now the author of three books; If Cats Disappeared from the World is his first one and has sold over a million copies.

This is the second Japanese book I’ve read this year about cats, both translated from Japanese by Eric Selland, and they both touch on social isolation and the love we give.

Our narrator has only days to live and is tempted by the devil in giving up more and more, not only from his life but from everyone’s, for one more day each time. Through his daily sacrifices and before we get to his cat Cabbage, we find out about his relationship with his family and what has led to him being alone.

It’s a special and simple tale, which opens up a path to joy more than anything. Even when the descriptions felt rather young I couldn’t help but read on. The facts seem simple:

by making something disappear from the world, I could live for one more day. Let’s see now, that would be thirty items a month, 365 per year.

But in reality, the things we choose sometimes mean more than we think and the consequences of losing even our most seemingly trivial items (although the devil is specific in what he wants, he doesn’t ask for trinkets) are far-reaching.

This is worth a read.

If Cats Disappeared from the World is available now.
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Delightfully amusing and poignant in the same vein. A dying man makes deals with the Devil  - who appears to him in constantly changing Hawaiian T-shirts -for extra days of life
The deal is, that for an extra day of life something has to disappear from the world. Clocks, ‘phones. Could this be the fate of cats!!!?
I loved the humour that ran through the story and felt the sadness of the character’s estrangement from his father. Could the Devil’s deals, in some way, help to heal this rift?  
A most unusual book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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A young man is visited by the Devil after finding out he only has a few days to live. The Devil bargains with him that he can give up one thing a day in extra for an extra day of life. Plenty of dark humour to be found here along with many life affirming questions.
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Thank you to Netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

The narrator finds he is dying and the devil offers a deal to get rid of one thing from the world entirely for each extra day of life. Would you get rid of the things that the devil proposes? 
I loved this book, it's so beautiful and thought provoking. I'm a big fan of Japanese literature and this had all my favourite elements: a cat with a starring role, little details that make you think and a connection to wider society and the world.
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