A Tabby-cat’s Tale by Han Dong: Dark and sad

Read our review of A Tabby-cat’s Tale by Han Dong.

A Tabby-cat’s Tale Synopsis

A Tabby-cat's Tale by Han Dong

Tabby isn’t an ordinary house-cat. Though he’s the most beautiful, captivating animal to grace the rooftops of Nanjing, Tabby is also prone to unpredictable outbursts of clawing and scratching, and to raging incontinence, and he has a slightly out-of-control flea problem. But he is beloved. And despite the trouble he causes with the neighbors, the sleepless nights he forces their aging mother to suffer through, and the wedge he nearly drives between the narrator’s brother and his wife, Tabby becomes the singular obsession of the entire household. In fact, life outside of Tabby fades into insignificance, and he soon wields a beguiling, incomprehensible, and inescapable dominion over them all.

Written with verve and a twisted, comic imagination, A Tabby-cat’s Tale is a charming delight. (Frisch & Co.)

Translated from Chinese by Nicky Harman

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Upfront I should declare that I’m very much a dog person. I know, it’s a divisive topic and I’m sure a large portion of my readers are cat devotees. My thinking was though that the character traits I’m not a fan of in a package with sharp claws, their aloof and selfish nature, would make for an interesting lead character in a piece of modern literature.

Looking at him, you might have assumed that Tabby was female, but you’d have been wrong. He was a tom, with none of the sweetness of a she-cat. He was imposing, with an acute gaze that no one dared to meet, although he seemed unaware of the effect he had on people. If he’d been a man, one would have looked at him sidelong, to avoid catching his eye.

The translation by Nicky Harman feels seamless and the story’s single narrative voice is appealingly candid.

Expectations can be your worst enemy sometimes. I’d hoped for some levity within A Tabby-cat’s Tale but found it surprisingly melancholic. The level of the characters’ personal sacrifice and conflict for little or no benefit was difficult to sympathise with. I must be programmed to look for the silver lining, or at least a sufficiently quirky karmic event to bring a smile to my face – unfortunately I didn’t find that in A Tabby-cat’s Tale.

I expected Tabby to play a more active role in shaping the story and be more overtly manipulative. However much of the story’s focus is on the darker side of human compulsion and obsession. Elements were perplexing but the feeling I was left with was ambivalence (at best) and sadness. I even felt bad for the cat!

I’ve enjoyed many of the quirky titles published by Frisch & Co but it seems Han Dong’s A Tabby-cat’s Tale was not made for me.

BOOK RATING: The Story 2 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5 – Overall 2.5

Genre: Drama, Literature, Translations

About the Author, Han Dong

Han Dong was born in 1961 in Nanjing, China. His parents were banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, taking him with them. When the Cultural Revolution ended, he studied philosophy at Shandong University, graduating in 1982. Han Dong has been a major player on the modern Chinese literary scene since the 1990s, and his first novel Banished! (2003) was translated into English in 2009.

* My receiving an ebook copy from Frisch & Co. for review purposes in no way hindered the expression of my honest opinions in the above.