Cat and Bird

Japanese American creative writing professor Kyoko Mori's eighth book, the memoir Cat and Bird, sets up metaphorical poles for her existence: the wild birds she watches and rehabilitates represent freedom and adventure, while the pet cats who share her home embody cozy belonging.

Mori (Shizuko's Daughter) weaves engaging pieces about animal-human relationships. She grew up in Japan with her mother Takako's bedtime animal stories and affection for the family cat, which encouraged her to become "softhearted about wildlife." When Mori first rescued a sparrow, it brought to mind the flocks Takako fed on their balcony, before she died by suicide. Mori escaped her father's neglect and stepmother's cruelty by attending college in the U.S.

Birds and cats have been a constant throughout her four decades split between the Midwest and East Coast and a child-free marriage that ended in amicable divorce. Mori is trained at rescuing fledglings. The opening chapter describes the swifts she regularly releases when they fly down the chimney and get trapped in the boiler room of her Washington, D.C., apartment building. Her cats, Miles and Jackson (kept indoors to minimize their impact on wildlife), join her in birdwatching from the window.

A standout piece, "My Pillow Book," compares the Covid lockdown to 10th-century writer Sei Sh┼Źnagon's isolation and expresses fondness for an uneventful "cat day" at home. No sentimental cat lady, Mori recounts with affectionate dignity the lives (and final illnesses) of her cats' feline predecessors, Dorian, Oscar, Ernest, and Algernon--Siamese cats with Wildean names and diverse personalities. This memoir, both elegy and celebration, is a quiet delight. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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