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Thursday, March 27, 2008


A fable for the catted

The Cat
How I Lost Eternity
By Jutta Richter
with illustrations by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Milkweed Editions, 2006
Translated from the German by Anna Brailovsky

Every day on her way to school, the eight-year-old girl communes with an old white cat who gives her advice that turns out to cause trouble. When the girl has trouble with counting, the cat suggests: "Numbers are determined by the mice . . . the mice that you've eaten."

The cat plays tricks: she's wise, but deceptive, and stopping to talk with her makes the girl late for school. When the girl tries to explain her tardiness, the school principal punishes her by assigning her to write, 200 times, "There are no talking cats." But the girl is willful, and proud of it, and she finds a way to subvert the punishment. After all, when she is communing with the old white cat, she feels that she is immortal.

Jutta Richter understands human children; she captures the world of the dreamy, imaginative child, her stern father and teachers, and her quirky neighbors. And Richter also understands cats; she details the white cat's sense of entitlement. After all, what mature cat doesn't think she owns the world and all the humans in it? What cat doesn't think she can dictate to her humans?

The cat and the girl both think they know more than the adults--the parents, the teachers, and even the priest. They know that they are the same, the cat and the girl. Their relationship is innocent as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and they are both sure they will live forever. But the girl has a bitter lesson to learn.

Alas, humans! They grow up, and to be a human grownup is to lose eternity.

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