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The Cat’s Table and dates

January 29, 2012

My mother lives far away from me, but when she heard about my ripped hamstring, she sent me a care package of books and dates. Yes, dates. She buys them at a stand in Arizona and they are huge, as long as my thumb, and fat, deliciously fat. She knows I love them. I eat them like candy. The books were equally satisfying. Or at least the one I read today is: Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table.

Unlike most people in the literate universe, I did not love The English Patient — I see this as my failing, not the book’s — but The Cat’s Table has an entirely different feel to it. It reads like a memoir, although it is a novel. The narrator looks back on his voyage to England from Colombo when he was eleven years old, and the ship becomes a little world, like the Ark, as one of the characters says. There is a prisoner, a beautiful girl, a rich aristocrat, a man who dies, a garden, a Weimaraner (I never knew how much Ondaatje loves dogs), a storm, a Captain, a rich aunt. The narrator sweeps back and forth in time, before the voyage, after the voyage, the voyage itself, even as the ship steams forward. It reminds me of Aharon Applefelds’s Badenheim 1939. Spare and weird and quiet and foreboding and beautiful, where the small events stack up into huge events. Cataclysmic ones, which the author never bothers to mention. There is no need; we know they are coming.

In my first month of college, when I was desperately homesick, but too proud to say so, my mother sent me another care package for my birthday. This time, it was a cake, my favorite kind. Even the wax paper she used seemed precious, the precise folds, the careful triangles — a relict from home. I did not know how to tell her how grateful I was back then. But that cake was a lifeline, as are these dates and this beautiful book.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2012 9:18 pm

    Dear Charlotte,

    This is so touching to me.What a lovely tribute to Emily.

    It was great to speak with you on Friday. We miss you.

    Much love,Estelle

  2. January 29, 2012 9:27 pm

    I read the Cat’s Table. Very powerful and wonderfully written book, although, I believe not written by an American, but good nonetheless.
    Your mother is a saint always was and always will be. How she put up with my brother is a true mystery.
    Why would you be homesick when you went to college in your ancestral town. Very strange. I think you must be very delicate but we all love you, also.
    Stay away from surgeons. Let god and time fix your hamstring.
    Love and kisses

    Uncle Nick

  3. January 29, 2012 10:57 pm

    Thank you, Nick and Estelle. I am glad you liked this post. Of course I am delicate, uncle nick!

  4. January 31, 2012 3:35 pm

    I’ve just heard the interview that Elaine Charles did on her radio show ‘The Book Report’ where she interviews Michael Ondaajte about the book The Cats Table. It really sounds adventurous and the mix of people sound very varied and interesting. It sounds like an enjoyable book for a large spectrum of different people.
    2 Phrases that I like were mentioned on Elaine’s show that came out of the book and they were:
    “Who realizes how contented the ferrell children are”
    and
    being on the ship was like “free of the realities of earth”.
    I really want to get hold of this book to read, thank you for your beautiful review.

  5. January 31, 2012 4:11 pm

    I do not know about this show. Where is it based? Thanks for letting me know you liked my thoughts.

  6. January 31, 2012 4:26 pm

    Hi Charlotte if you want to know more about Elaine Charlses book report show go to her website: bookreportradio.com.
    Elaine has her report playing on 9 different radio stations in the U.S.. The radio stations and times of her shows are on her website. She also keeps recordings of the old shows on her website as well so you get to hear her discuss audio books and interviewing allot of interesting autors. It’s a super entertaining show.

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