Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: The Cat Who Covered the World by Christopher Wren

Wren was an editor at Newsweek when a co-worker trying to find homes for kittens offers a bottle of Scotch with each kitten. Looking for an appropriate Christmas gift for his young children, the kitten sounded good, especially accompanied by a bottle of Scotch. And so Henrietta, a tiny ball of grey Siamese fluff went to live with the Wren family. But instead of staying in the relatively stationary job of editor, Wren jumped at the chance to get back in the writing trenches and become a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. This led to posts in far-flung places around the world and to questions about what to do with the family pet on these postings.

Wren, who claims to not be much of a cat person, was against taking Henrietta on their travels but his wife and children overruled him and so Henrietta became a globe trotting cat, living in Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Ottawa, and Johannesburg and visiting numerous other places. This book is the tale of some of Henrietta's exploits in these foreign places. She smoothed the Wren family's arrival in many places, inspiring customs agents to expedite processes that could have stranded folks unaccompanied by a pet for hours or days. She charmed important political players and enjoyed more freedoms in certain closed societies than her human family did.

The book was simple and generally sweet but very superficial. Wren mentions some of the major political upheavals that he must have covered only in passing, ostensibly because this is Henrietta's story, but a general accounting of a cat's usual day contains a bit less excitement than I was perhaps expecting given the world traveling nature of the author. I understand that Henrietta was a special cat and I dearly love my own dog beyond reasonableness but I'm not certain that there's really a book to be written there, and not just because she's never lived overseas. Wren does intersperse his tales of Henrietta's strolls about Moscow, her being lost for months in Cairo, catching rats in many of their posting, and other such adventures with short bits about other reporters who have cats. Maybe it's that I'm really not a cat person or that I never met Henrietta (since apparently everyone who met her was captivated by her) but I found the book to be a bit lacking in feeling. It was definitely a smooth read but nothing memorable really stuck with me. Good (or great) for cat lovers, it might be lacking depth for anyone else not captivated by cats.


  1. Thanks for the review. I love cats! I'll probably write this one down and pick it up it sounds like a great story to me.

  2. I love cat books. This sounds perfect for me.

  3. I finally got around to reading this, and was surprised that Wren really isn't a cat person. It's strange that he wrote a book about his cat!


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