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The Guest Cat: A Fated Visit

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The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide is a slender but rich meditation on fate. What force directs the twists of our lives -- or are all events random and therefore beyond our control? When a tiny, independent, and utterly charming cat enters the lives of a couple living in a rented guest house, the unexpected affection and reliance the narrating husband and his wife feel towards the little feline sets off a chain of disquisitions on nature, destiny, joy, pleasure, and sorrow -- and on the importance of acceptance of all such gifts of fate, in the moment and of the moment.

The narrator struggles to define what he feels toward the cat and where she fits -- so unexpectedly -- into his life; time is passing and he knows all that he is experiencing will change and disappear, but he still tries to stop time and enjoy what he has found in his quiet corner of Tokyo. He turns to Art for guidance, including the works of an abstract artist he befriends, the words of a dying poet he has long admired, and the poems of Machiavelli. The artist tried to capture moments in time, the poet is running out of time, and Machiavelli is thwarted in his efforts to control a symbol of time, the flowing of the river Arno. Although we might associate Machiavelli primarily with the rather ruthless guidance of The Prince, it is through his poems that he shares his experience with forces beyond his control. Working with Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli sought to change the course of the Arno through Florence -- but the forces of the river were too strong to divert or change. Machiavelli experienced the futility of trying to change the tide (literally and metaphorically) and put the experience into poetry: "Fortune also is unkind, boldly her long tresses/Disarranged -- now here, now there, /O ne after the other, transform all things..."

Much as Machiavelli used poetry in an effort to understand the forces of the Arno (and of destiny), the narrator uses his writing as a way to control (and understand) the ebb and flow of his life, including his connections to friends, his wife, the cat, and time itself. But even in writing of that special time in his life when a little cat made herself guest in his home, he cannot fully grasp the import of the moments he shared with her: "All I want is to know what happened -- I want to somehow grasp every detail of the events of that day, that one day like a tiny dewdrop...but now it's all engulfed in the profound darkness of time."

Hiraide's writing shines a light into the connections that come from living fully in the moments of our pleasure, and the sorrow that comes when such moments pass into what he so aptly calls "the darkness of time." Hiraide's writing is lyrical and captivating -- his description of the relationship he develops with a dragonfly mesmerizes - -and I will revisit The Guest Cat with pleasure, much as I return to favorite poems and paintings and memories. Fate goes where she wishes, times passes without pause, but our experiences of events belongs wholly to us in the moment, no matter the engulfing darkness to come.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide won the Kiyama Shohei Literary Award in Japan and was a bestseller in France. It was just released in its English translation; it was translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland.