You have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, left with days to live. The devil comes along and makes a deal, in exchange for another day to live, he makes one thing disappear from the world. This is the premise that sets the scene for If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura (translated by Eric Salland). The narrator, faced with the peculiar and difficult decisions of life and death, embarks on a journey of reflection and reconciliation.
The premise is nothing special; it takes the what ifs that everyone has wondered about at least for once in their lives and builds a story out of it. The choice of presenting the “decision-maker” as character of a devil betting with God is surely interesting. Kawamura even goes so far of structuring the books in “days of disappearances,” echoing the classic Christian reference of seven days of creation. Each day reveals more about the protagonist and weaves into the next day smoothly; although the plot moves rather slowly at first, the complete picture comes together eventually, and it ends at the perfect place.
The book touches on many themes in its short span, each of which is profound on its own but together creating somewhat of a messy read—just when I was hooked and wanted to read more about something, the author swiftly moves on to the next. Nevertheless, the book’s depiction of family relationships and the narrator’s contemplation of life and death stood out to me. The narrator’s will to live, juxtaposed with his inevitable death prompts one to reflect on the century-old questions of why we live and what are the most important things in life. You see the ending coming, but you get to experience the narrator’s emotions firsthand as he walks down memory lane. It is an emotional roller coaster, but it leaves me feeling satisfied when he attempts to reconcile with his past leaving no regrets.