My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Good Luck Cat (2014) by Lissa Warren spellbinds the reader into cheering for a loving family to overcome life-threatening health issues and champion a beloved Korat known as Ting-Pei, who turned 20 years old on October 27, 2015.
Dedicating the book to her parents and to her favorite cat, Lissa exudes the essence of an ailurophile as she describes feline ancestry—explained by the Father of History—tinged by a bit of foreshadowing:
“According to the Greek historian Herodotus, whenever there was a fire, Egyptian men from all over the city would gather to guard it so that cats couldn’t run into the flames. Our own devotion paled in comparison.
“Herodotus also wrote about how, in Egypt, cats were honored in death just as they were in life—how, when a cat died, its family would go into mourning. They’d even shave their eyebrows as a public sign of their loss, just as they’d do when they lost a human family member” (p 29-30).
The insightful and sagacious Lissa continues as she elaborates more on intriguing facts about cats when her parents visited China years ago:
“They shared what the shop clerk had told them: that dogs have long been the pets of hunters, and cats, the pets of farmers. For that reason, China, an agrarian nation, strongly favored the cat. Recently, eight five-thousand-year-old cat bones were found in the Chinese farming village of Quanhucun. Testing showed that one of them was from an elderly cat who probably couldn’t have survived in the wild. It suggests a certain level of domestication—that the farmers must have protected the cat—and it was quite surprising to archaeologists, because cats were thought to have been domesticated a mere four thousand years ago, and in a completely different country” (p 85).
With the historical foundation laid, Lissa’s compassion to Ting is surpassed only by her compassion for her father as she opens her heart and soul to describe a childhood event which stuns the reader into tears and silent agony:
“The Wolverines were down by three and trying to get within field-goal range when my father dragged himself onto the couch. The rest of what happened comes to me in snatches—fragments due to the passage of time, or the fear I felt, or the episodic nature of childhood memory. What I recall is that his white Hanes V-neck was soaked with sweat, which was also pouring off his forehead. Me running to the kitchen to get him paper towel. Him telling me to dial Mom at work, then telling me to hang up on her and dial 911. Him saying I should unlock the front door and put Cinnamon in the bedroom. Him waving to me as the ambulance pulled away” (p 32).
But this profound memoir holds much more than history and woe, and the reader will often find herself laughing at the marvels and unexpected fun balled up in the gorgeous Korat:
“And then, on Christmas Eve, a miracle occurred: Ting-Pei Warren, the Judeo-Christian Buddhist cat, high on catnip and tuna water, silently scaled the six-foot spruce while her family sat by the fire, making short work of a pecan-encrusted cheese log. The three of us turned just in time to see her, a silver star atop the highest bough. And just in time to see her lose her balance and take the entire tree down with her” (p 50).
Lissa dives further in to the wonderful world of all-things-cats and becomes a Joan of Arc, per se, defending the unsavory reputation cats have gained over the centuries:
“The French novelist Colette once said, ‘There are no ordinary cats.’ And while clearly we think Ting is one of a kind, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cat we don’t like. That’s why it baffles me that, somehow, cats have gotten pegged as harbingers of bad luck…
“Some of the digs are fairly gentle, as in L.M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of the Island: ‘I love them, they are so nice and selfish. Dogs are too good and unselfish. They make me feel uncomfortable. But cats are gloriously human.’
“And in Christopher Hitchens’s The Portable Atheist: ‘Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods” (p 58).
If the reader loves all-quotes-cats, each chapter begins with quotes and poem excerpts from T.S. Eliot, Mugsy Peabody, H.P Lovecraft, Haruki Murakami, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, William S. Burroughs, Isobelle Carmody, and dozens more, including the poetess Lissa Warren as well in her opening poem “The Waltz on the Red-Brick Patio” originally published in Oxford Magazine.
What the reader will find more interesting than the quotes are the snippets of sweet memories between a father and his only daughter, his beloved neshama, and these snapshots seem wonderfully infinite in its scope and sublimity. After her father’s back surgery, Lissa tells of a daughter’s true love for her father and the painful moments he first returned home:
“I eased Dad out of the front seat, held him by the elbow while he walked upstairs to the bedroom, and helped him lower himself into his rocker. I tucked our fluffiest pillow behind his back and handed him the remote control and a giant bow of vanilla-bean ice cream with chocolate sauce that Mom had scooped for him (he’d earned it), and left him to watch the Yankees game in comfort for the first time in over a year” (p 105).
But it’s Lissa’s unwavering honesty to dig beyond the borders of flesh and time and space which lock people away from one another, and as she reaches out to the reader with her uncensored thoughts and fears, the world grows a little bit smaller and bigger all at the same moment. There’s hope here, and in that hope there is truth; as she writes, Lissa’s father has once again returned to the hospital for more tests:
“But in the hospital that night, for the first time in my life, I wished I had a brother or sister—someone to stay with Mom and Dad while I went to fetch a nurse, or even a cup of tea…
“It hit me that night that someday both Mom and Dad would be gone and that, when they were, I wouldn’t have a family. That no one would remember ‘raccoon theater’—how we used to scatter marshmallows on the back lawn of our house in Ohio so that, after dark, we could turn off the inside lights, turn on the outside ones, and settle near the window to watch the raccoons enjoy their treat. That no one would remember how, at 11:11 every night, whichever one of us noticed it first would cry out ‘Happy our time!’ simply because my father had designated it as such. That no one would remember the trip to Greers Ferry Lake where Dad dislocated his shoulder trying to get onto a raft, but where we found great barbecue afterward—pulled pork sandwiches with that vinegary sauce they have in Arkansas that Dad said was worth a little pain. That no one would remember the night I brought Ting home, and how I slept on the floor of my parents’ room to help her transition from me to them. That no one would remember any of it. No one, that is, except me” (p 111).
As over 250,000 inquiring minds, plus tens of thousands more, read of Lissa’s memories let us remember her special moments, her happy times, and her love for her father, mother and her adorable Ting-Pei. We should all be so lucky to have lived so well and with so much love.
If there is a Heaven—and I have it on good advice that Paradise awaits the ones who remain true to the Spirit and Love—it would look and feel a great deal like this:
“The two of them, Dad and Ting, would walk over the little stone bridge, past the pair of Adirondack chairs by the pond, past the weeping willow where the kingfishers liked to chase each other, and then back across the creek to the house” (p 27).
The Good Luck Cat enchants, captivates, and takes the breath away (but in a good omen-kind-of way). A strong recommend for those who love cats, for those who love history and literature about cats, and for those who love a powerful story told well.
Keep reading and smiling…
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 350,000+ followers