Writer Sosuke Natsukawa has taken what might appear to be rather mundane characters and created a unique novel that has many twists and turns.
A high school student (Rintaro Natsuki), who is lacking purpose or direction in life, and whose grandfather peacefully dies in his sleep leaving his independently owned bookstore to his grandson.
A cat (Tiger the Tabby) who suddenly appears out of nowhere and begins talking to this aimless young man, prodding him to help save books that, “ … have been imprisoned.”
A classmate (Sayo Yuzuki), and possible girlfriend, who expresses her no nonsense thoughts to her desultory classmate.
Not long after Rintaro’s grandfather has died, someone makes a very direct comment that Natsuki Books has an excellent collection but, overall, the store needs some attention because it is dingy and gloomy. Looking around, Rintaro is confronted by Tiger the Tabby, a cat who is plump with an orange-and-yellow striped coat and two gleaming, piercing eyes that look like bright green jade. Rintaro is startled and confused to hear and see a talking cat, and one that knows Rintaro is the new proprietor. Tiger does not mess around and begins talking to this aimless young man, urging him to help save imprisoned books. The young man offers some lame excuses, but Tiger is having none of it, and tosses off a quote from The Little Prince. A literate and determined cat who warns Rintaro that he can refuse to help, but admonishes him, "I will be bitterly disappointed if you do." And so an adventure begins, which includes a visit to four labyrinths with four different types of people who have collections of books, and four different attittudes about books. There is the owner who neglects his vast holdings. Another person who thinks that speed-reading is the way to keep up with the interminable onslaught of newly published books, and by cutting them into reading-bites people will be able to keep up. A book publisher who only wants to print books that make lots of money, bestsellers are the way to go, even though he has more money than he can ever spend. And the last labyrinth which is the most dangerous one of all, and from which Rintaro, joined by Sayo, may never, ever return. Is he up to this?
Sosuke Natsukawa's novel is a coming-of-age adventure; an homage to books (great varieties of them) and to reading (all types, e.g., for entertainment, and to rereading books that need more attention and thought); social commentary about the publishing industry and its drive for mass production of new materials, while allowing other books to go out of print. This novel is a reference to a classic Japanese novel, I am a cat by Natsume Soseki, and to more modern Japanese novels with a cat protagonist, The guest cat; and The traveling cat chronicles. In other ways this novel reminded me of Sophie's world : a novel about the history of philosophy, which does not have a cat protagonist. The cat who saved books is delightful, charming, chock full of wisdom, humor and satire.
There are no illustrations in the book. At the end of the book there is a note from the illustrator, Yuko Shimizu, about the book jacket that was created with great care and attention: the selection of colors, the background images and the type of paper. Even though Tiger theTabby is playfully portrayed, part of the illustration is purposely intended to be reminiscent of Hokusai in style and color. Yuko Shimizu also validates the titles of western books mentioned in the novel, and states that the cover is, " ... more representative of my own "East meets West" personal style."