Title: The Cat Who Went to Heaven
Author: Elizabeth Coatsworth
Genre: Children’s fiction
Rating: 4 / 5
After I read Peter The Likeness (which he loved even more than I thought he would) we fell into a sort of read-aloud book depression. I started a couple books which either didn’t hold my interest or didn’t hold his. Finally he handed this one to me to try. It’s pretty short and we finished it in two sittings. The story–which is about a struggling artist and his lucky cat Good Fortune–is simple and at times repetitive. Yet the writing is nice and the fable is ultimately satisfying (I know there are people who disagree). There was a part near the end that almost kind of totally made me tear up. The book also won points for featuring a bobtail cat: our own divine feline has a bobtail too. Overall we enjoyed the book and it was pretty sweet.
After we had finished the book, Peter asked me a question about it. I wish I could remember what it was–I think it had to do with the accuracy of certain details–but my answer was, “Well, it was written by a white lady.” As far as I can tell, Coatsworth is not a Buddhist and doesn’t seem to be especially knowledgeable about Buddhism or “ancient Japan,” where the back of the book says the story is set. Not that this is my area of expertise by any means, but one of the “Buddhist stories” most central to the plot seems to have been fabricated entirely by Coatsworth for her book (I personally found it pretty clever and cute, though). Anyway, what I’m getting at is that it does raise issues of cultural appropriation. Nothing about it struck me as particularly problematic, and especially for a book published in 1930 it seemed respectful of its characters and subject matter. (I will repeat, though, that Buddhist and/or Japanese culture is not my culture and I could be overlooking something.) There was also some “mild” sexism but it was pretty minimal; I think the only time I stopped to roll my eyes at Peter was the sentence ” ‘You may argue with a stone Jizo by the roadside, but you waste your breath if you argue with a woman!’ cried the artist.”