Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Old Man and the Cat: A Love Story by Nils Uddenberg

Reviewed by Jeanne

This slim non-fiction volume explains how a retired Swedish professor of medical psychology and his wife “came down with cat.”   It all began when he and his wife returned to their house outside of Stockholm and discovered a stray cat had taken up residence in their garden shed.  They did not need a cat; they did not want a cat.  Still, they felt sorry for the cat, especially as winter came on. She regards them warily with big yellow eyes.  As Uddenberg writes, “There is something special about a cat’s eyes.  They are large and face forward; like humans and other primates, cats have three dimensions vision. . . . It is easy to start seeing an appeal, maybe even reproach, in their gaze.”  They decided to at least put down an old beach towel to help her survive the cold.  And just a bit of dog food, left by one of their sons. And when the dog food ran out, they bought a bag of cat food. . . .

Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat knows how this scenario is going to play out.  Before long, Kitty has managed to in insinuate herself into their lives, much to their bewilderment.  What sets this book apart is Uddenberg’s thoughtful observations.  As a psychologist, he is able to look at both his own reactions to Kitty and to speculate on her motivations.  How does she view the humans?  Does she understand her name?  Does she understand time?  Does she have a sense of humor? He ponders the history of cat-human relationships and describes his well-meaning efforts to show Kitty how to use her cat-flap.  (She figures it out on her own.) He’s also very aware of his own reactions to Kitty.  When she disappears for a couple of days, he’s surprised at how much he misses her and how distraught he is. 

The book reads as if it were taken from journal entries, so at times there is a bit of repetition but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  Cat people always love it when some outsider is converted, if you will, to the clan of people owned by cats.  

Since this is a translation, I let a co-worker read the book before I wrote the review.  She has been critical of some other books translated from the Swedish, questioning phrases and expressions used in the English versions.  This one won her approval.

I found this to be a charming little book, enlivened by the Uddenberg’s illustrations. (Or what I assume are his illustrations as I can't find anyone else credited for them.) The first is evocative and a bit mysterious; the last is playful and joyful, just like the book. If I have any quibble, it’s that The Powers That Be chose to use stock photo on the cover with a black and white cat who is definitely not Kitty.  Also, it makes the book look like a possible tear-jerker, which it isn’t.

I hope that at some point we’ll get an update on Kitty and her humans.

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