The Deep Dive

Purrfect Translation: A Look at Cats on Recent Translated Literature

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

The last few Deep Dive posts I’ve done have been, well, deep dives. They’ve required a significant amount of time to research — such as the piece on Carnegie Libraries — or they’ve required a lot of time to research and involved an interview — see the piece on That One Millennial Student Planner. For my entry this go-around, I’m going to keep it a little lighter. We’re going to look at cats.

Since the beginning of this decade, we’ve seen many books in translation hitting shelves in the US that might fall into the “cozy” category. Purrhaps they’re cozy fantasy reads or cozy mysteries. Purrhaps they’re leaning more toward a cozy literary vibe. And, well, purrhaps something in common with many of them is that their vibes are right there on the book cover in the form of a cat.

All of the cats on these works in translation are adorable, so no need to rank them. Instead, let’s not only appreciate the globe’s love of cats but also that those cover cats are valuable, too, for giving a nod to readers on what kind of story they can anticipate inside. There is certainly something to be said about how Japanese and Korean publishers use cats on covers to tell readers precisely what they will get out of the book. In many cases, the books below are the first in what will be an ongoing cozy series. Other regions outside of Eastern Asia vary a bit more in their use of feline cover models, but really, not all that much!

I’ve kept to books published between 2021 and today. There are certainly other cats in translation — err, books in translation featuring cats on the cover — that have come before, including Before the Coffee Gets Cold and The Traveling Cat Chronicles. But we are truly in the purr-ime time of kitty cover models.

Likewise, I have done my best to credit the cover designers. If you thought finding credit for cover designers in the U.S. was hard, I have some news about finding that information about global cover designers. Here’s a reminder of how tough it is to find cover designer credit and why this is important to talk about…and a reminder, too, why it’s essential to credit the translators of books like these.

the cat who saved books book cover

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai, cover design by Stephen Brayda, cover art by Yuko Shimizu

Rintaro Natsuki is a high schooler who inherited an old bookstore from his grandfather. Unfortunately, the bookstore isn’t doing great and he’s going to have to shut it down.

But then a mysterious cat appears. That mysterious cat talks, and he tells Rintaro that they need to go on a mission together. The strange and enchanting duo are embarking on a journey to rescue books throughout the land. This is a charming and light read about the power of words and stories, as well as the power of magic and friendship — even unlikely ones between a talking cat and a teenager.

The Cat Who Saved Books is in translation from Japanese.

chilean poet book cover

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell

It’s possible that this is the least cozy book on the list featuring a cat on the cover. But if you have developed a sense of interpreting and dissecting book covers — a real skill set — you probably picked up on the clues that this is a more “serious” literary title. That said, this cat deserves her time to shine among her peers…especially because this is a coming-of-age story with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, which, well, having lived with cats my entire life, kind of describes many of them to a T.

Also, look at those fangs! Whenever my tuxedo cat bears his, I can’t help but giggle because they think they look fierce, but really…they look silly.

Chilean Poet is translated from Spanish.

days at the morisaki bookshop book cover

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa, translated by Eric Ozawa, cover art by Ilya Milstein

There are a number of books in translation from Japan that include not just cats but bookshops. This is another entry into that sub-sub-genre, and it could not look more adorable. It’s about the people who enter and exit the titular Morisaki bookshop in a Tokyo neighborhood, all of whom are connected by their love for books.

Bonus on this cover is that you get two cats, not just one. It took me a few minutes to see the second one.

the goodbye cat book cover

The Goodbye Cat by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel, Cover design and illustration by Adam Auerbach

Though the title might suggest otherwise, this is an uplifting short story collection. It follows seven purrfect felines and the ways their lives intersect with their human owners. It does touch on death, but it also touches on birth, and it’s meant to really encapsulate what life is from start to finish.

The Goodbye Cat is in translation from Japanese.

the healing season of pottery book cover

The Healing Season of Pottery by Yeon Somin, translated by Clare Richards (October 22)

In this work of Korean literature, readers follow along as a burned-out Jungmin leaves her job and decides to enter into a mysteriously boarded-up pottery shop when invited by a teacher. It’s here she not only falls in love with the work of pottery, but she discovers what it is to live a meaningful and enjoyable life.

What a beautiful tuxie we have here! Technically, this one might fall more under the bicolor cat classification than the true tuxedo.

how to train your human book cover

How to Train Your Human: A Cat’s Guide by Babas, translated by Katherine Gregor

We’re going to Italy now and spending a little time with a smart, sassy cat. This guy is our narrator, and the story is about the complex and unique relationships formed between humans and cats. It’s funny, and it perceives humans not unlike what we humans joke about when it comes to how we believe cats see us (as theirs to boss around, of course!).

Of all the cats in this roundup, purrhaps this is the least sweet-looking one. I don’t know about you, though, but that’s precisely what draws me to want to give this one a head scratch.

The Kamogawa Food Detectives book cover

The Kamogawa Food Detectives (A Kamogawa Food Detectives Novel) by Hisashi Kashiwai, translated by Jesse Kirkwood

The Kamogawa Food Detectives, a Japanese translation, was among my list of favorite book covers so far in 2024 and that still remains true. We’ve got a sweet-looking — and, as experience would tell us, likely a little empty-brained — ginger kitty resting in a bowl.

The book follows Koishi Kamogawa and her father, Nagare, who run a diner in Kyoto. But it’s not any ole diner. Patrons come in because the father-daughter duo can cook up recipes from memories, and these dishes help their patrons relive, resolve, and reminisce about the past.

The second book in the series, The Restaurant of Lost Recipes, comes out in October and also features our little orange kitty on the cover.

The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon book cover

The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon, translated by Natasha Lehrer, cover art by Pierre Le-Tan

First, look closely for the kitty on this work in translation from French. Second, know this might be the actual outlier on the list when it comes to feel and theme — this is a work of nonfiction about Pauline’s discovery of the story behind the Nazis seizing her great-grandfather’s fine art collection.

we'll prescribe you a cat book cover

We’ll Prescribe You a Cat by Syou Ishida, translated by E. Madison Shimoda (September 3)

It’s another bestselling work from Japan! We’re heading to Kyoto this time to a unique clinic. The Kokoro Clinic is where folks looking to find real help in their lives are given a prescription for a cat. They take the cat with them for the recommended amount of time in hopes of it helping turn their troubles around.

And it works!

Among the success stories documented in this work of fiction are a businessman finding joy in manual labor, a student finding help navigating elementary school cliques, and more.

I’d like a dose myself. The gray tabby here will do the trick, I’m sure.

what you are looking for is in the library book cover

What You Are Looking For Is In The Library by Michiko Aoyama, translated by Alison Watts, cover art by Anna Morrison

Last but not least, we’re going to take a moment with a beautiful black cat. Though we’re not in a bookshop in Japan, we are now in a library. Once again, cats and books help unify the world around them.

Sayuri Komachi is an enigmatic Tokyo librarian who is able to simply sense the book every person who comes into the library needs. She’s able to help connect people with forgotten passions, unknown dreams, and more. The book celebrates the power and magic of books and reading…

And, of course, the joy of a good cat to read beside.

I think that these covers — even for the non-cozy titles — really help make translated literature feel really accessible to the average reader. If any of these strike your fancy, know some of them are companions to earlier published books by the same author and/or we might see more books from those authors in the near future. Many have been in print and wildly popular abroad and are finally making their way to the U.S.

If you’ve been playing along, here’s your count (though some are definitely up for debate): 5 tabby cats, 5 black cats, 1 white cat, 1 tuxedo cat, and 1 calico cat.

What’s your favorite? Did you find anything new to add to your TBR? Chat about it in the comments.

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