Review: The Cat Who Covered the World

“Kakaya krasivaya Amerikanskaya koshka!”

What a beautiful little American cat!

What do you do when you’re working for The New York Times, living in New York City, and  you adopt a kitten your children name Henrietta, and she grows up as a member of your family, and then the Times names you chief foreign correspondent of its Moscow bureau, a job you’ve always wanted–but you have this cat…?

If you’re Christopher S. Wren, and your daughter Celia, aged six, tells your son Chris, aged three, that he’s not to worry because Henrietta is coming, too, isn’t she, Daddy?, then you do what has to be done.

You pack Henrietta up, haul her to the airport, put her on a plane–at least twice–and take her to Moscow.

And what do you do when you’re stuck in the Moscow airport, going through the long process of being formally admitted to the country, and you know that the Times is about to publish parts of a book by Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and if you’re still being processed, the Soviets will refuse to admit you, but if you’re already at your job, they’ll let you stay, and things are moving slowly, and Henrietta still has to be examined by the veterinarian, and the veterinarian doesn’t look friendly, and neither does Henrietta…?

If you’re Christopher S. Wren, you give thanks for that “beautiful little American cat.”

And later, after Henrietta has accompanied you to Egypt, China, Canada, and Johannesburg, you write a book: The Cat Who Covered the World: The Adventures of Henrietta and her Foreign Correspondent.

If you googled the four words at the top of this post, which appeared on yesterday’s blog, you may have already read the story of Henrietta’s diplomatic coup that ensured Wren could stay in Moscow. You know more as well–what a Pakistani diplomat said when Henrietta set a not-quite-dead mouse beside his shoe; how Henrietta dealt with her feline arch-rival, the neighbor’s Rasputin; why Henrietta was fed only after the housekeeper left for the day.

If you choose to go further and read the entire book, you’ll find more stories about Henrietta set against a backdrop of the Cold War.

My favorite anecdote concerns the evening nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, spent with the Henrietta’s family. Wren had warned his wife to keep kids and cat out of the way, but as soon as Sakharov arrived, he followed the children to their bedroom and, sitting on the floor, demonstrated what an atom looks like by making one from Tinkertoys. After dinner, while the adults conversed in the living room, Henrietta lay in Sakharov’s lap while he petted her and called her, in Russian, “Dear little cat.”

As you see, I have nothing but good to say about this book.

It’s possible that, as a confirmed cat person, I’m biased.

But I don’t think so.

If I am, my bias is toward interesting stories, well- and intelligently written books, journalists (and others) who don’t take themselves too seriously, and…cats.

For those with similar tastes, The Cat Who Covered the World will be a pleasant read.