cover image Particularly Cats ... and Rufus

Particularly Cats ... and Rufus

Doris May Lessing. Alfred A. Knopf, $20 (129pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58671-7

``Knowing cats, a lifetime of cats, what is left is a sediment of sorrow quite different from that due to humans: compounded of pain for their helplessness, of guilt on behalf of us all.'' Sentimentality, even about cats, should not be expected of Lessing ( The Four-Gated City ) here; readers may find this severe and often violent memoir grim and wholly sobering. It is also filled with an unfailing, occasionally unearthly empathy for the animals. Perhaps the tone of the book is due in part to the author's upbringing: in the first chapter, she recounts a story from her early years on an African farm, when her father solved the problem of an overpopulation of cats by collecting and shooting dozens of them in a room (``The cats that were still uncaught had sensed their fate and were raging and screaming all over the bush''). Convinced while still young of the brutishness of existence, Lessing maintained a rapt yet oddly detached interest in cats as fellow sufferers and would-be survivors. Here she recalls the lives (and woes) of sundry cats and sidelong humans with a compelling, almost metaphysical, darkness. Literary Guild alternate. (Oct.)