A young man is asked to make a bargain with the devil, putting his beloved pet cat, Cabbage, at risk.
The unnamed narrator, a young man who works as a postman, discovers he has a terminal brain tumour. He doesn’t have long to live. Out of nowhere the devil appears, dressed in a flamboyant Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sunglasses, as though he were on holiday. His personality matches his breezy attire.
The devil makes a bargain with the young man: he can have an additional day of life, but for each day he must make something disappear from the world. At first he trades mobile phones. They disappear from the world, not such a bad thing he decides. The choices, however, become increasingly difficult, as the devil demands things disappear that have special meaning for the young man. Then comes the ultimate test: he is asked to make cats disappear from the world to live an extra day.
This causes the young man to think deeply. He has a pet cat called Cabbage who he is very close to. Cabbage was found many years ago by his recently deceased mother. Understandably, Cabbage carries all sorts of meaning, bringing memories of time spent with his family. Especially his father, who is still alive, but from whom the young man is estranged.
The basic plot outline of this short novel by Japanese author Genki Kawamura sounds grim and cheerless, but the tone is quite comic and whimsical (the young man calls the devil “Aloha”, due to his colourful shirts). Kawamura infuses his story with a light and playful tone. It enchants with its earnestness, quirky dialogue, likable characters and amusing, oddball digressions.
At heart the book is about what we need and what we don’t need, what’s most important in life and what sustains us. It’s about the fragility of life, the bonds of family and the importance of maintaining our relationships with those we love.
An unusual little gem that quickly grows on you.
If Cats Disappeared from the World, by Genki Kawamura. Published by Picador. RRP: $18.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books