Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/21/15 6:20 AM

Book review: Chinese Whiskers by Pallavi Aiyar

This is more a brief take than review.

Chinese Whiskers (Harper Collins) is not a new book.

Dated 2010,  it follows Smoke and Mirrors, author  Pallavi Aiyar`s excellent dispatches from China.  Chinese Whiskers is a charming tale of two  Beijing  cats,  the gorgeous Soyabean and his slightly scruffy companion Tofu, who go to live with two wai guo Ren, foreigners,  Mr and Mrs A.

Despite now living quite in the lap of luxury, both the felines are products of their early days. Soyabean struts around confidently, certain he is master of the world. Tofu, who spent her early days in a metal dustbin, has a more suspicious worldview and positively cringes from human contact.

The story contains a generous slice of Beijing life as seen through the eyes of these two cats, the people they meet and warm to or instinctively distrust, how they are affected by the goings-on around them (an outbreak of a virus suspected to be carried by animals has people culling both dogs and cats indiscriminately), the frenetic construction of buildings in time for the Olympic Games, the plight of migrant labourers, a massive pet food scam which has Soyabean inadvertently at the centre of it.

It`s not really a fable, it doesn’t  carry a moral. It`s not really an allegory, what you read is what you get. It`s a story of lives lived in a Beijing hutong, alley, only told by two cats. And yes, the reader will find much that is familiar between Indian and China. I will leave it to the reader to find out how much.



beijingcat storyChinese WhiskersfablePallavi Aiyar

Sheila Kumar • August 21, 2015

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