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Book: Chinese Whiskers

Author: Pallavi Aiyar (@pallaviaiyar)

Publisher: Harper Collins

Genre: General Fiction/ Contemporary Fiction

Language: English

Recently I watched an interesting writing session with Pallavi Aiyar as part of Blogchatter’s #WritFest. Thereafter her book ‘Chinese Whiskers’ made its way into my library. It was the author’s debut book and the first edition was published in 2010. This new edition has been published in 2021 and is as relevant today as it was a decade ago. But before we find out more about that, let us begin with the book cover.  

The book cover which showcases two cats, one inside a television set and the other on top of a cushion with Chinese motifs sets the mood right away. The honey base is attention grabbing and immediately caught the eye of my ten-year-old who grabbed the book before I could lay my hands on it.

Blurb: Soyabean is a kittenwhen he is adopted by Mr and Mrs A, foreigners who live in a large courtyard house in Beijing. Soon after, the couple brings home Tofu, a rescued dustbin cat. Just as the cats begin to settle into their new pampered lives, Soyabean is offered a job as a model for a new brand of cat food. Meanwhile, a mysterious virus is sickening people across the city and it is cats that are being blamed.

Chinese Whiskers is a modern fable set in the ever-changing landscape of early twenty-first-century China. Told from a feline point of view and richly textured with the sights and sounds of the hutong neighbourhoods of Beijing, Pallavi Aiyar’s first novel will make you laugh and tear up, and think again about the battles that we all fight between the corruption of fast living and the ideals of traditional life.

About the Author: Pallavi Aiyar is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has reported from across China, Europe, Indonesia and Japan. She is the author of several books of fiction and non-fiction, including the bestselling China memoir, Smoke and Mirrors. She currently lives in Spain with her family- human and feline.

Review: The story set in Beijing, China is a tale of two cats Soyabean and Tofu. Written in first-person (cat) narrative, the story incorporates the perspectives of both cats in alternate chapters. As mentioned in the blurb, both felines come from different social backgrounds but land up in the home of their well-to-do European owner who loves them both immensely. However, despite being a part of the same environment Soyabean and Tofu are like chalk and cheese in their personal preferences. It is through them that the writer presents a commentary on life in Beijing. Although I wouldn’t call the book allegorical, it does touch upon the moral and political aspect of life in China as also on the large social divide.

The cats form a strong bond and during the course of their seemingly ‘simple’ lives land up in a precarious situation. An adventure of sorts, which uncovers the corruption and filth surrounding human lives is next on the cards. The story which has been conceptualized keeping a deadly virus, story of migrant workers and the Olympic Games in the backdrop transcends both time and space and is equally relevant today and across nations and societies. Indian readers are likely to savour the flavour which is very Asian and very familiar.

The language is simple and so is the setting. At face value it may even pass off as YA fiction with the illustrations and can be easily picked up by young adults. At the same time, it is multilayered for the adult reader with the confrontation between generations, class divide, corruption, human apathy being some of the several themes that will provide enough to chew on.

The resolution to the cat-adventure has been worked out in an easy manner, and you almost see it coming. The predictability factor can turn the whole thing a little wobbly.  But I guess it has been done consciously to keep it in tandem with the uncomplicated plot. No, there isn’t a moral at the end but there is lots to dwell on.

All in all, a quick and fun read and it did well to arouse my interest in the next escapade of the cats as it appears in Jakarta Tales.  

My rating is four stars.

The Amazon link to purchase the book is right here!

This book has been reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Programme which you can join here.


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