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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Anna Starobinets
Age Range: 9-11
Baguette is just an ordinary regular house cat who lives on the 12th floor of a high rise block with the Petrov family in Moscow. He likes to sit at the window, watch the birds, and eat three meals a day, but when Baguette falls in love with the beautiful Purriana, his life changes for ever. 'In accordance with ancient feline tradition a male cat who intends to marry must, in honour of his beloved, accomplish a heroic feat'. At the request of the Oracle, Purriana's great-great grandmother, Baguette is tasked with travelling back in time to the lost island of Catlantis and finding the Catlantis flower (better known as Catnip) whose fragrance gave cats their nine lives but which has been lost over time due to a magic spell being placed on it.
Catlantis is a delightfully witty and highly unusual tale from Russian author Anna Starobinets. She has created a feline myth with similarities to Plato's fictional 'Atlantis' – a lost civilization and an island that sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The back story features Catlantis, a mythical island destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados that sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Only six cats survived, known as 'Catlanteans' – one white, one grey, one black, one ginger, one stripped and one spotted. These six cats created the Catlantic Council consisting of the six wisest representatives of each Catlantic breed. However, as time passed, they turned into ordinary cats losing their magical abilities.
Jane Bugaeva has done a tremendous job with the translation – the clever 'cat' puns are fun. There's the 'cat-aclysm', the terrible 'cat-astrophe', the deity 'Pussiedon' (not Pusseidon). The wise Council of Six gather at the top of Mount Aracat in Catmundu, the spell of 'Meowbra-Catabra', the cats religious text the cat-echesis which is the great Catlantic Codex or there is the Catolic Vow (a vow of silence). These puns work extremely well in English and Bugaeva has managed successfully to capture the spirit and humour of the original although it is intriguing to know how the humour worked in the Russian language. The witty black and white illustrations by Andrzej Klimowski really enhance the story adding to its enchanting quality.
While there is a little bit of stereotyping in terms of the 'bad' black cat Noir, the story does reflect the history of some parts of the world where black cats were indeed seen as a bad omen and being associated with witches. Here in this tale there is redemption for Noir as he is perceived to bring good luck when spotted by a Frenchman towards the end of the book which starts to negate the negative image of black cats which begins to lose its power.
A lovely, quirky, feel-good story, which cat lovers in particular will enjoy.