The Cats of Rekem, by C. L. Francisco, is a thoughtful story about Jesus and his followers told from a feline perspective.
This is the third book in the Yeshua’s Cats series and it opens with the characters from A Cat Out of Egypt twenty-five years later. In the Nabataean city of Rekem there’s religious and political discord. Tikos, Zaidan, their daughter Hinat, and their faithful cats are placed in a dangerous situation when Yeshua and Mari appear before and after the Resurrection. Yeshua makes a request: help save Paul of Tarsus. Can they and what will the consequences be if discovered?
The author should be praised for utilizing cats as the narrators. It’s a clever and magical way of presenting religious fiction in a way that won’t inflame diehard believers and nonbelievers. It helps the author step back into the shadows to let the cats tell the story, putting distance between preaching and focusing on the narrative. Lines such as, “This was human religion, nothing to do with me” and “I confess that the subtleties of human religion often escape me” help steer the story away from becoming an in your face account of Jesus. The novel highlights the growing power of his beliefs and followers in a relaxed and entertaining fashion, making this story accessible to animal lovers and open-minded people, no matter their religious background. The cats provide small doses of humor during tense moments and their insights about humans and their personal beliefs and struggles are enlightening.
The Cats of Rekem isn’t solely about religion. That’s at the heart of the story, of course, but just like in today’s world, religious beliefs and tension cannot be separated from many other factors. Francisco also includes political, societal, and economic forces that ruled over the communities and individuals during Jesus’ time. When all of these forces collided, individuals were caught up in the middle. Believers had to contend with economic threats and hardships. Many had to fear for their personal freedom and in some cases their lives.
The personal struggles of Hinat and Paul highlight what was really at stake during the time. Both try to reconcile Jesus and his One God to their own belief systems. Their inner turmoil, raw emotions, and self-doubt show just how transformative the events were and their impact on the individual level. Both had different backgrounds and beliefs, but their personal struggles were remarkably similar. This similarity helps demonstrate the universality of how religious doubt affects people from all walks of life and is a wonderful and powerful lesson today.
The Cats of Rekem is a fascinating interpretation of Jesus, his life, and how he impacted those around him. The author provides a well-balanced historical fiction story with a twist, which is neutralizing a potentially complicated and inflammatory novel by utilizing cats as the storytellers. Oddly, the feline perspective personalizes the stories of Hinat and Paul, making them sympathetic characters, while never putting them on a pedestal. A wonderful addition to historical fiction and would appeal to those curious about Jesus and his followers.