Tame novella about two trickster lions.
In Mexican author Ransom’s first book in English translation, two lions make their human owners and keepers do crazy things. Cattino, who can morph into a domestic cat at will, charms Sophia, an Italian countess, much to the dismay of her husband, Count Lorenzaccio. When Sophia and Cattino fly from Rome to New York to visit Lorenzaccio’s sister, only one—the Countess—disembarks at LaGuardia. Despite her husband’s pleas, Sophia has refused to speak to Lorenzaccio: She claims he bribed Alitalia baggage-handlers to “lose” Cattino. The scene shifts to Nairobi, where ne’er-do-well Jeremiah is hired to guard Pasha, a stuffed lion encased in glass on exhibit in the Ministry of Tourism’s opulent lobby. A bureaucrat, Redding, claims he shot Pasha on safari, but Jeremiah realizes that Pasha is not really stuffed; he’s only pretending to be inanimate when other people are around. After a Masai smashes Pasha’s cage, Jeremiah leaves, knowing Pasha will escape. The Nairobi police keep him under surveillance for lion theft. In the last of three sections, Cattino resurfaces in Rome after circumnavigating the globe in a jumbo-jet cargo hold. He’s quarantined by police, who will not restore him to Sophia—even intermittent lions are not legal pets—but agree to consign him to Don Stefano’s traveling circus. As a circus lion, Cattino exerts his spell on his keeper, who describes how he can’t really be tamed. His act, which sells out, consists in turning from lion to small cat and back again before the astonished spectators’ eyes. When the circus travels to Nairobi, Pasha joins them, adding his talent of mutating from stuffed to alive in seconds. The duo is unbeatable until the circus reaches Mexico City, where, anticlimactically, the felines wander off. A lion and a housecat are found under a bridge, Pasha really dead this time. But Cattino? Only the keeper suspects he’s still at large.