Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Fe-Lines: French Cat Poems through the Ages, collected and translated by Norman R. Shapiro

The French have long had a love affair with the cat, expressed through centuries of poetry portraying the animal's wit and wonder. Norman R. Shapiro lionizes the felines' limitless allure in this one-of-a-kind collection. Spanning centuries and styles, he draws on she-cats and toms, and an honor roll of French poets, well known and lesser known, who have served as their devoted champions.He reveals the remarkable range of French cat poems, with most works presented here for the first time in English translation. Scrupulously devoted to evoking the meaning and music of the originals, Shapiro also respects the works' formal structures. Pairing his translations with Olga Pastuchiv's elegant illustrations, Fe-Lines guides the reader through the marvels and inscrutabilities of the Mystique feline. 

I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3 Stars

I don't usually read non-fiction, so picking up this volume was a bit of a departure for me. I do love cats, though, so that helped me make up my mind to give it a try.

Poetry can be a difficult subject to discuss because the flow and the content make it a very personal topic. This is a volume of translated work, which made the assortment of poems even more interesting. There are pieces in it from hundreds of year ago to more modern times, which is a nice variety. 

Some of the older pieces I did not care for because the language was a product of its time and thus very different from what I am used to. This difficulty was especially evident in the older poems of a longer length.

One of my favorite poems was The Cat and the Dog by Andre Auguste Tandon (1759-1824). It typifies the relationship between cat and dog in a humorous way. The translator had to do a bit of work with this one regarding the dog's voice as there's a stammer there, but I think that he managed to capture the attitude of the dog.

Another favorite was The Clock by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). This was one that was more of the poetic prose sort that read more like a story to me, but in such a lyrical way that I would certainly call it poetry. It speaks to the cat lover's soul, illustrating the serenity that one might enjoy in the company of your feline.

Something that was an interesting feature was that the first half of the book is the translated works and the second half of the book was the originals. It was not as much of a draw for me because I cannot read French, but for someone that does, it could be fun to flip back and forth to see the differences between the original and the translated work.

The illustrations by Olga Pastuchiv were a great choice to include in this volume. Looking at them on a Kindle screen, they look like delicate pencil sketches that are smudged in just the right places. It gives the poems a sort of ethereal quality that fits most of the poems.

The reason that I am giving this a 3 star rating is that the older poems selected for the beginning of the book were too heavy for me; they felt as though they were dragging too much.

Another drawback was the introduction that also had that dragging feeling. It could easily be skipped, though, and wouldn't need to be read more than once if you were indeed interested in pushing through it.

Music Recommendation

This song was running through my head for much of the time I spent reading this volume of poetry. If I wasn't humming the tune under my breath, I was imagining Duchess reciting some of these poems in that perfect little voice of hers.

What else could it be but Everybody Wants to be a Cat from the movie The Aristocats.

All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

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