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The Cat Who Covered the World

December 26, 2011

The Cat Who Covered the World: The Adventures of Henrietta and Her Foreign Correspondent Christopher S. Wren is an unusual memoir, in that it is a cat book by a non-cat person.

Wren admits he didn’t like the cat at first and had never had one before Henrietta came into his life. His memoir shows him dealing with the inconveniences of traveling and pet ownership without reveling enough in the perverse pleasures of sharing life with a small and remorseless carnivore to make those inconveniences worthwhile. Readers have to wonder how he ever came to be fond of the cat at all; it seems that mostly it had to do with how much his children liked her.

Wren’s response when the cat disappears from their apartment in Cairo is to go out and buy a birdcage because, as he says, “I didn’t want a grungy Egyptian cat replacing Henrietta on the rebound. But a bird suddenly seemed the most portable of pets for a foreign correspondent and his family.” The cat eventually reappears and the children are overjoyed. Wren himself seems glad enough to have her back, except that he still doesn’t know anything about living with a carnivore–he leaves a piece of meat on a plate in another room and then tells a story about how surprised he was when he came back to find the cat eating it.

Telling the story of the Wren family’s travels by focusing on the exploits of the cat is a mildly amusing way to tell some of their stories, but it makes this book neither a proper travel memoir nor a cat lover’s yarn. You learn a little about what it was like to live in Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Ottawa, and Johannesburg, and a few of the family stories centering on the pet who traveled with them during those years. Reading The Cat Who Covered the World is a bit like watching a slide show of two decades worth of family vacations taken by some other family. They’re a nice enough group, but you may keep wondering if you need to witness their every moment.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2011 12:11 pm

    I think I must read this, if only because the cat is named Henrietta, which was Mrs. Stein’s real name. I am missing her a lot this Christmas. There was no one to eat all the ribbons off the presents. And also, Mr. Spy got me one of those inflatable travel neck pillows that is covered in grey fuzzy fabric exactly the color of Henrietta. And in its inflated state, it is approximately the same shape as a curled-up cat. It has landed in the seat of my bedroom chair, which is where she used to sleep. I haven’t the heart to move it.

  2. December 26, 2011 1:27 pm

    Harriet, I could send it on to you–the book belongs to Lemming and she eventually wants it back. It was one of the small, non-taxing pleasures she provided for me last month.

  3. December 27, 2011 3:54 pm

    Hmm. I’d vaguely thought I might like to read that but now maybe not.

  4. December 28, 2011 8:26 am

    sounds like something i could pass on! oh well.

  5. December 28, 2011 12:38 pm

    It seems like an odd little mix … not too much of one thing to make it worthwhile!

    Hope you had the merriest of Christmases and wishing you a wonderful 2012!

  6. December 29, 2011 11:44 am

    Just to defend my book – it’s a light read, and Wren clearly gets a kick out of Henrietta, even as she baffles his understanding. The anecdotes about traveling with her through the many airports always crack me up – and i’m not a cat person!

    • December 30, 2011 9:19 am

      Wren does get a kick out of Henrietta, because he’s so clueless about what she’s likely to do in any given situation. She does seem friendlier to strangers than many cats are.

  7. December 29, 2011 9:53 pm

    This sounds funny. I love the phrase “a small and remorseless carnivore” to describe a cat. so true. My little carnivore is sleeping over on a chair right now.

    • December 30, 2011 9:21 am

      I guess I left out heat-seeking along with remorseless and carnivore, for a full description of catkind.

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