Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: Un Gato No Es Un Cojin

Book Title: Un Gato No Es Un Cojín

Original German: Ein Kater Ist Kein Sofakisse
Author: Christine Nostlinger
Translator: Marisa Delgado
Date: 1982 (German), 1985 (Spanish)
Publisher: Alfaguara
ISBN: 968-19-0548-2
Length: 59 pages
Illustrations: drawings by Angel Campos
Quote: “En otro tiempo tuve nombres. En otro tiempo me llamaban. Incluso respondía a los nombres que me daban.”
Christine Nostlinger is Austria’s counterpart to Astrid Lindgren, Margaret Mahy, or Judy Blume. (In fact she won an Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.) She's written lots of clever, funny, child-friendly stories. Most of Nostlinger’s books have never been translated into English. Some that aren’t available in English are available in Spanish.

The name "Nostlinger" should, properly, be written with an umlaut. I typed it in Word with the umlaut. It's showing up on Blogspot without one. Properly, not having access to an umlaut character means one should type German names with an extra E, as in "Noestlinger." Would readers recognize the name that way?
Of Nostlinger’s books, one of the easiest to read in any language has to be this little book whose title would be “A Cat Is Not a Cushion” if it were in English. It’s the short, straightforward, realistic story of a feral cat. The only improbable detail in the book is that the story is told as if the cat were talking. This allows the story to be matter-of-fact about the facts of the cat’s life, as real feral cats always seem to be.
In the other time when he had names, the feral cat recalls, he lived with humans who did several of the things that prevent humans from having good relationships with cats. There was the one who clutched him too tight, the one who fed him too much, the one who (finally) took him to the vet and didn’t keep him in a secure carrier...Now he lives an anonymous life. He knows he probably won’t live as long as a cat who has human friends, but if longer life means living with those humans, he’ll pass, thanks.
If you want a long, happy relationship with a cat, and the cat happens to be male, will avoiding the mistakes Nostlinger’s humans made keep Tom at home? I doubt it. Dogs are the only species in which the unaltered male normally becomes a good pet. With cats, a good rule is to start with a female. Male cats don’t really have homes unless they’re neutered early.
If, however, you want a daddycat to be your friend for life, or you want a female or neutered male cat to be your house pet, avoiding the mistakes that drove Michi-Michi, or Samuel, or Micifuz, or Don Bola, back to the feral life, is a good place to begin. Michi-Michi, or whoever, does an excellent job of explaining to children that a cat is not a cushion who can be picked up and squeezed and snuggled. And a cat can be choosy about his litterbox; if you still have one of those big oldfashioned ash-cans with sand for people to stub out cigarettes in, a cat may prefer to squat in that. (If you don’t offer enough clean sand, often enough, some cats will also use the bathtub, apparently on the premise that at least you do seem to keep that clean. Others will wrap solid waste in pieces of cloth or plastic.) And so on.
For native Spanish speakers, the ideal age to read Un Gato No Es un Cojin is probably between five and ten; older readers can always read it aloud to children. For those learning Spanish as a second language, this book might be a challenge for first-year students; after that, it will be a real full-length book, printed in Mexico, that can be read without consulting a dictionary.

A newer Spanish edition of Un Gato No Es un Cojin has been printed. If your bookseller can get it, this web site recommends buying the new edition. Online, I'll have to charge $10 for the book, $5 for shipping, of which I will make every effort to send $1.50 to Christine Nostlinger (Noestlinger) or a charity of her choice.