Book Review by Keith Lyons
Title: The Cat with Three Passports
Author: CJ Fentiman
Going to Japan to teach English seemed like a good way to earn money, but animal lover CJ Fentiman came away from living and working in Japan with more than she expected as chronicled by her in The Cat with Three Passports: What a Japanese cat taught me about an old culture and new beginnings.
A book that could be considered a travel memoir, but it stretches beyond the normal scope of a travelogue, due partly to the introverted author’s inner reflection and personal transformation, but mainly due to the courageous actions of the writer in turning a soft spot for a cat into an international animal relocation mission. Sorry to spoil the ending of the book, but in most cases, foreigners going to a strange and different country take a “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” approach. So when they leave, it is with fond memories, tales of culture shock and culinary misadventures, and bulging suitcases.
Not so with Fentiman and her partner, Ryan, who faced new challenges while taking a homeless cat with them to Australia, some 8,000 kilometres away. So why would you rescue from the streets a bedraggled silver tabby and then contemplate taking it with you across the oceans? If you are a cat lover, you already know the answer.
Let’s back up. One of the reasons The Cat with Three Passports is such a good read is that from the outset, the reader is invited in to experience Japan as seen through the eyes of someone right off the plane after a long flight. Throughout the book, there are vivid descriptions of landscapes, encounters and events, including weird festivals (naked men) which give an insight into an unfamiliar culture.
If the anticipation isn’t enough, the author exposes her vulnerability by sharing her anxieties and self-doubts, along with her past patterns of escaping situations and places, and how she has been distant from her estranged family.
Cats feature literally and figuratively throughout the book, and the author has blended in feline-related sayings and some of Japan’s cat wisdom. In a way, the cats make CJ and Ryan more “at home” in Japan among the cherry blossoms, bullet trains and vending machines. Essentially, the cats they encounter are the facilitators of the adaption and softening, helping them discover their purpose and giving them fulfilment.
Things take a turn for the surreal when they transfer to a job at a school set in a British theme park high in the mountains. Their time in Japan is not complete without a visit to the famed Cat Island, where cats outnumber humans perhaps thirty five to one. In the same way that cats love warmth and sun, humans are also attracted to cats because they bestow blessings on homo sapiens. One study found that cat owners have better psychological health than people without pets. Cat feeders claim to feel happier, more confident, less nervous and to sleep, focus and face problems better in their lives.
The Cat with Three Passports will appeal to anyone who has or wants to visit Japan, any animal lover or ailurophile along with readers who enjoy travel memoirs. It is a heart-warming and touching tale of outer and inner discovery.
If you’ve already encountered some travel classics on Japan, such as Lost Japan by Alex Kerr, Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson, or Pico Iyer’s recent A Beginners Guide to Japan, consider reading The Cat with Three Passports even if you aren’t a pet lover or Japan fan.
Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL