Review

Cleo  ·  Javier del Pino Romero 

CLEO, by Javier del Pino Romero, is a bilingual children’s book of 192 pages, and will be published in Belgium in late 2021 by the Publishing House Fiscal Celestial. It measures 17 x 24 centimeters. The first half (the pages on the left) corresponds to the original Spanish, and the other half (the pages on the right) corresponds to the translations. There are illustrations on all pages.

 

Javier del Pino Romero has previously published another novel, Una serpiente de verano, a manual for students of interpretation, Guía Práctica del estudiante de interpretación, and several scientific articles about translation, and conference interpretation.

 

CLEO is available in its Spanish-Dutch and Spanish-French version, and before long, the Spanish-English, and Spanish-Russian will be published.

 

CLEO was translated into English by Allan Brown, former university lecturer in Spanish Studies, professional translator specialising in legal, political and literary texts. His poems and essays have been published in prestigious publications; into French by Cristina López-Devaux, lecturer in interpretation and literary translation at the School of Translation and Interpretation ISTI-Cooremans (Free University of Brussels); into Dutch by Lieve Behiels, Emeritus professor at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. She is a corresponding member of the Royal Spanish Academy; and into Russian by Elena Kupriyanova, with a diploma in translation from the Gorki Institute of Literature in Moscow, and a master’s degree in Spanish-American literature from the Complutense University of Madrid. The illustrations are the work of Ekaterina Muratova, who has illustrated more than 50 children’s books from Russian publishers.

 

The main characters of this book are Cleo the cat, and her adoptive father, but in this book Cleo’s “siblings” also appear: Pablo (17 years old), Ruthie (15 years old), and Elena (13 years old), as well as the father’s girlfriend (Liena), the neighbour, and various vets.

 

The book has two introductions (one note from each of the “authors”: the adoptive father, and Cleo the cat), 47 chapters, and an epilogue. The adoptive father and Cleo recount the life and adventures of Cleo since her birth in Spain in 2013 until the year 2021: domestic issues, human relations, travels, encounters with dogs, mice, and other cats, visits to vets, adventures on the street, and lastly, Cleo’s participation in the Cat Beauty Contest of Antwerp 2021. The plot unravels in Malaga, Cordoba, Vienna, Brussels and Antwerp. In the latter city, during the first lockdown in 2020 caused by the COVID pandemic, the adoptive father will realise that Cleo speaks Spanish, and understands French, Dutch and Russian.

 

The two principal themes of this book are (1) the coexistence between a human being and an animal as an allegory of interfamilial relations and relations between people of different races, nationalities, ideologies, ages, etc, and the necessity to understand one another, in spite of being totally different, and for this, an effort must be done; and (2) the education of a cat as an allegory of the education of a child.

 

The author has chosen a literary language suited to the taste of a children audience, but also an adult audience, with much humour, and a didactic function, both in its form,  in order to increase the vocabulary of the reader thanks to the richness of the vocabulary and the use of idioms, and in its substance, due to its pedagogical value of instilling social values in children: dialogue, music, reading, effort and hard work, friendship despite racial, social or age differences, sports, healthy food, altruism, cleanliness, good behaviour, etc.

 

CLEO condemns racial discrimination and violence in all its forms, puts the reader on guard against false impressions (“appearances are deceptive”), and it defends the right to make mistakes, to learn from experiences and to correct errors, and to be responsible.

 

This is a book recommended to children and adults for various reasons. Firstly, for its didactic value, to learn one’s mother tongue, and also one’s second language. Because it is a bilingual book, any child in contact with the two languages in question could read it in those two languages, and thereby improve their vocabulary in the two languages. They could also hear the narration if each linguistic version is read out loud by a native of that tongue. Secondly, this is a book which reinforces or transmits the pleasure of reading to any child, thanks to its literary quality, the emotions it conveys, and the adventures lived by Cleo the cat which are narrated with much humour, and which will make any child identify with her. The translation is excellent, and the illustrations by Ekaterina Muratova, as expected, are a work of art.

 

In CLEO, the influence of Platero and I, by Juan Ramón Jiménez are visible in the chapter “Ode to Cleo” (“Cleo is small, hairy, smooth, and so soft that when you pick her up in your arms, you feel as if you were hugging a lively teddybear”), and from The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A Hoffmann (“Until now, that I know of, no cat has written their autobiography except the Tomcat Murr, and although very cultured and funny, his book was not written for kids, nor young cats, but for adults: cats and humans”).