Friday, 5 August 2011

Read in 2011 - 19: Francesco, der Kater des Papstes

For a change, I've read something in German (well, I do that regularly anyway; my weekly paper comes in German, and when I am waiting my turn at physio therapy, I usually scan the local daily paper there, which is of course in German).

This little book of 187 small pages was actually a very belated birthday gift from a friend of mine who came to see me the other day. She had intended to come to my birthday "do", but her father-in-law got very ill and so they went to the opposite end of the country to be near him. All spring and early summer, they travelled back and forth, and we never had time to see each other until two weeks or so ago.

As you can guess from the picture, the title means "Francesco, the pope's cat".
It seems an odd choice of a gift for me, since I am neither Catholic nor particularly interested in the pope's life, but my friend knows I have a cat, and she thought I'd enjoy a book written from a cat's perspective.

Well, I did - sort of. Please do not get me wrong; I do not want to sound ungrateful, as if I did not appreciate my friend's gift. I did! But... the story itself and the style in which Renate Fabel has written is simply not really my cup of tea.

The story starts in Bavaria, where the current pope is from, and where he and the farm cat get to know each other. The pope (who at the beginning of the book is still a cardinal) decides to take the cat with him to Rome, where they live together in his apartment. It takes the cat a while to adapt to the new surroundings, and just when he gets used to everything, the cardinal becomes pope and has to move. No pets are allowed there, and the cat is given to a gardener and his mother. He sneaks into the Vatican gardens almost every day and meets the pope there, having a short break on a bench.

That's really about it - we accompany the cat to the Forum Romanum, where colonies of half-wild cats live, we meet some friendly and some less friendly cats, and learn a bit about how bewildering it must be for a pet when their humans take decisions and change things without them understanding what is going on.

There are some charming illustrations in the book, by the author's husband.
It is a lovely little book and I know just who of my friends would really like it - but the subject is not "mine", and the style, although written from the cat's perspective, is not "mine", either. Sometimes the cat or the people in the book use Italian expressions. These are not always correct, something a good editor would have checked. But now that's just me being picky.

Sorry - this was such a well-meant present, and here I am, taking it apart. But all of my book reviews show my honest opinion, and this one is no exception.


  1. A true friend will always understand. As you may have picked up from my blog (although you are now to my world as I am to yours) friends are to me the most important things in life. Even above family. Those of my family who are also friends (all of them as it happens!) are doubly important.

  2. It's hard when you don't really like a present, but you sat there and read it all through which is as much as you can be expected to do. We can't all love gifts! maybe you will find someone you can pass it on to, who will enjoy it.

  3. I think that it's very hard to write well from the viewpoint of animals and children, as there's a big risk of the writing becoming twee and contrived. I too would avoid this kind of book, although it's certainly an original idea!

    I too love German, but only speak a little, and rarely have the chance to practise it.

  4. The book looks a little too precious. I'm not big on perspectives from animals, though the cover is rather nice.

  5. GB, I am happy to call my immediate family members friends, too, plus have the addition of several not related close friends who are considered extended family. They are very important to me, too.

    Jenny, I so like the idea of the present - just not the present itself that much... and I have indeed a friend who I intend to pass this book on to.

    Frances, being German and living in Germany, of course I speak and write German all day, but my mind works just as fine in English, and if possible, I read books in their original language. Translations are not always good, and I have utter respect for those who manage to render an author's work in a different language the way it was meant.

    Sonia, I am trying to remember whether I have ever read a book written from an animal's perspective before. I don't think I have.

  6. Librarian try Watership Down. Certainly one of the very best novels written from an animal's this case rabbits. Truly a fascinating tale.

  7. Oh, Jill, I found Watership Down one of the most depressing books I've read. It was a long time ago but I seem to remember thinking it was rather like reading Kafka.

  8. GB I didn't find it depressing at all, but rather a brave and daring adventure. Hardly anything moves me to tears, but the ending of this lovely book did.

  9. Jill, I am quite sure I read Watership Down when I was in my early teens, and like you, cried at the end.
    Right now, I have opted for some non-fiction. I truly need something to engage my mind in a different way now.

  10. It does sound like a cute book! It's nice to read something out of your comfort zone from time to time. Check out "The Help" it's about being a black domestic in the deep south in the USA, it's a fabulous read.


  11. Thank you, Mary, I am always on the lookout for a good read.