Following its reception in Japan with Harry Potter-level hysteria, the rest of the world eagerly awaits the release of 1Q84 internationally in November. In “Town of Cats”, the main character, Tengo, take a train to visit his father and reads a story on the way there about a man who finds himself in a town full of cats. The following is translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin:
At Koenji Station, Tengo boarded the Chuo Line inbound rapid-service train. The car was empty. He had nothing planned that day. Wherever he went and whatever he did (or didn’t do) was entirely up to him. It was ten o’clock on a windless summer morning, and the sun was beating down. The train passed Shinjuku, Yotsuya, Ochanomizu, and arrived at Tokyo Central Station, the end of the line. Everyone got off, and Tengo followed suit. Then he sat on a bench and gave some thought to where he should go. “I can go anywhere I decide to,” he told himself. “It looks as if it’s going to be a hot day. I could go to the seashore.” He raised his head and studied the platform guide.
At that point, he realized what he had been doing all along.
He tried shaking his head a few times, but the idea that had struck him would not go away. He had probably made up his mind unconsciously the moment he boarded the Chuo Line train in Koenji. He heaved a sigh, stood up from the bench, and asked a station employee for the fastest connection to Chikura. The man flipped through the pages of a thick volume of train schedules. He should take the 11:30 special express train to Tateyama, the man said, and transfer there to a local; he would arrive at Chikura shortly after two o’clock. Tengo bought a Tokyo-Chikura round-trip ticket. Then he went to a restaurant in the station and ordered rice and curry and a salad.
In this New Yorker Out Loud podcast, Blake Eskin, editor of NewYorker.com, chats to longtime Murakami translator, Jay Rubin. Rubin, who has been translating the work of Murakami since about 1990, says cats are not only a motif in Murakami’s work but something of an obsession for the writer. “Town of Cats” is typical Murakami for, not only does it contain cats, but it contains the characteristic “story within a story”:
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More about the fictional story at the centre of “Town of Cats” and Murakami’s own thoughts on 1Q84 in this interview:
The German story “Town of Cats” that forms the center of this piece—is it based on an actual story or is it your invention? The hero of the story within the story becomes a kind of ghost in a world where he doesn’t belong. Is that what is happening to Tengo’s father, too, as he withdraws into his dementia?
“Town of Cats” is a story that I made up. I think I probably read something like it a long time ago, but I don’t have a very precise recollection of whatever it was that I read. In any case, this episode performs a symbolic function in the novel in many different senses—the way a person wanders into a world from which he can never escape, the question of who it is that fills up the empty spaces, the inevitability with which night follows day. Perhaps each of us has his or her own “town of cats” somewhere deep inside—or so I feel.
- 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
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