Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sitting At The Cat's Table

 The cat’s table is far from the coveted captain’s table.  Or as Miss Lasqueti says, “We’re in the least privileged place.”  You can only guess who’s coming to dinner. 

Can you imagine being 11 years old and told to board a ship by yourself for 21 days?  Your mother will be waiting for you in England when you arrive from Colombo, Ceylon You’ll have an older woman/friend of the family to “watch over you”, but she’ll be in first class and maybe you’ll have a few encounters with her.   You will be in steerage.  You will unexpectedly find out your cousin Emily is also on the ship, but she isn’t assigned to the cat’s table. 

This is the story of Michael (nickname Mynah), who narrates his journey from an 11-year-old boy in the early 1950's to adult.  The Cat’s Table is penned by Michael Ondaatge, who also wrote the English Patient.   

Michael has two partners in crime that are the same age and together the three of them have a lot more substance than their labels would assume.  Nobody is really what he/she seems.  People’s personalities and purposes unfold over time.  Being confined to a ship allows for intimacy and an unveiling of a person’s history.  There is plenty of unveiling that goes on which forms the life of Michael.  A whole world is open to him as some of the assorted adults he meets are a thief, a prisoner, a tailor and a spinster or at least that’s their introduction.   

Nicely paced and wonderfully written, The Cat’s Table is a worthy read. 

NPR's interview with Ondaatge who says that his goal in writing The Cat's Table wasn't to rediscover the boy he was; it was to write a fictional version of something that had been forgotten.

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