Oskar, an elderly cat, tells this story of people and their pets separated during wartimes. Early scenes show families enjoying lives together—eating, cooking, talking and walking their dogs. Oskar recalls his life in the basement as the caretaker’s cat. He remembers a kind girl but now lives with the ghosts for company in his deserted house. For the ghosts there is no peace ‘among the fallen plaster and broken glass.’
The illustrations reveal wartime scenes. Bombs destroyed houses. Tanks rolled down the street. Soldiers forced people to leave. Anna Pignataro’s watercolours dispassionately capture these scenes of buildings destroyed, people fleeing and animals foraging for food. The text is highly realistic and creates strong figurative images. These vividly describe the rats that ‘poured out of the sewers in waves, sweeping though the derelict city like a dark tide.’
Later people returned. They ‘cleared the streets and rebuilt the shattered houses,’ but not the house where Oskar lives. He has forgotten his name. Years later, a young woman and young man enter the house, catching Oskar unawares. The moving high point of this story is the moment when the child, now a young woman, and Oskar meet each other again after so many years have passed. Oskar remembers her smell in a happy reunion.
Anna Pignataro’s atmospheric watercolours initially fill the pages with happy scenes of people engaged in daily activities before the destruction of their town. Scenes of destroyed houses, displaced people and fleeing animals appear as planes, soldiers and tanks invade the town. Yet these scenes are handled gently by Pignataro without dwelling too deeply on the darker aspects of war, just as the text, though realistic, only briefly refers to wartime events.
Throughout both the text and the images, there are ‘ghosts’ of those who formerly lived in the town. In a final double page these ghosts are seen floating off with their pets, waving goodbye to Oskar as he begins a new life with his former owner.