The Smartest Non-Human Narrators in Literature
By Pallavi Aiyar
St. Martin’s Press, 22.99, 240 pages
Two different cats share an interesting commentary on how alike humans and animals are. Tofu was born in a dustbin and was flea-ridden when she was adopted by two foreigners in China. Then there is Soyabean, whose overflowing optimism leads him down a dangerous road. Living in China during a time when a virus affecting humans is being blamed on cats, and scandals surround pet food, is not ideal for felines. Told from their alternating points of view, distinct perspectives paint a harsh picture of what is referred to as New China, where the transition from the traditional to the modern mostly impacts those born without privileges.
“I felt sad. This was such a nice Ren and yet he must have a very hard life. Like Mama. Why were some Ren born unlucky and some lucky? It didn’t seem fair.”
With unique voices, these cats make for smart narrators. Tofu manages to reduce the issue of evil to simple terms and eventually brings Soyabean out of the proverbial bottom of the well with her quick wit. It takes a traumatic experience for Soyabean to finally take notice, but their friendship grows stronger. Chinese Whiskers delivers a short and sweet portrayal of friendship in hard times where trust is the most difficult to give and lending a hand can be costly.
Reviewed by Isabel Hernandez