KASPAR, PRINCE OF CATS
by Michael Morpurgo
This is a review/synopsis of the Unabridged Audiobook.
Wandering through “The Book Stops Here” section of my local library I ran across this audio book for sale. Intrigued by the back cover summary I purchased it. Quite some time later I got around to listening to it. It’s about 2 1/2 hours long. I listened to it in 3 stages and each time I had to stop I was annoyed because I wanted to continue with the story. It was very well done.
It is read by Paul Chequer and after I got the hang of his Cockneyish British accent I soon became entranced with the story.
It begins in the stylish London Savoy Hotel. This is where the Countess Kandinsky resided while she performed at the London Opera. She always had her cat Prince Kaspar Kandinsky with her. When she arrived for her latest tour, it fell to orphaned 14 year old Johnny Trott to be her bellboy. He carried all her luggage to her rooms including the yowling black cat in its wicker carrier.
The Countess took a liking to the young boy and asked him to watch over Kaspar when she was away doing her performances at the Opera House. Even though Prince Kaspar was extremely devoted to his mistress he developed a mutual respect for the bellboy who would take him out for walks during his break time.
Tragically, the Countess was killed in an accident a few months later. Johnny was inconsolable as she had become like a mother to him. Kaspar was overwrought with grief and stopped eating. Realizing the cat was also suffering Johnny did all he could to console him.
Employees were not allowed to keep pets in their rooms, but Johnny kept Kaspar in his and all the staff covered for him because they were fond of them both.
Also lodging at the Savoy Hotel was an American Family, the Stantons. They had an inquisitive young eight year old daughter, Lizziebeth, who was always wandering around exploring and getting lost. That is how she found Prince Kaspar in Johnny’s room after she knocked and entered when he wasn’t in. For some reason she bonded with the sleek black cat and he started eating again. In dismay Johnny realized he had to ask her to keep the secret or both he and the cat would be put out in the street. She agreed on the condition that she could come and visit Kaspar.
She started coming to his room while he was working to feed Kaspar twice a day. Johnny realized that she had saved the cat’s life as he saw their bond getting closer and closer.
The three had their adventures in the hotel including Johnny once coming to Lizziebeth’s rescue when she clamored out on the roof trying to save an injured pigeon.
The time finally came when she told him they would be leaving to go back to America. She was excited because they were going on the maiden voyage of a huge new ship – the Titanic. However, she became sadder and quieter as the date of leaving drew closer. Even Kasper sensed the melancholy mood and became downcast.
Lizziebeth suggested that both he and Kaspar come with them as she knew her parents would agree as they liked him, especially since her rescue. He was torn, but even though he said he couldn’t he would at least accompany them on the train until the harbor in Southampton to say farewell. He went in the capacity of the Hotel Savoy and in his best uniform proudly carried their luggage on board the beautiful ship to their cabin. He had smuggled Kaspar out in a picnic basket so he could also be there in the end.
When the time for parting came Lizziebeth squeezed Kaspar very hard while with gushing tears and a breaking heart she tried to say goodbye to him. In the spur of the moment Johnny told her that he wanted her to take Kasper with her to America! He turned quickly and she hugged him not wanting him to go. As the ship blew the final siren he broke away and himself in tears rushed up to the main deck.
When he got to the railing he came to the sudden realization that he didn’t want his old life back! He didn’t want to leave Lizziebeth! He didn’t want to leave Kaspar! When the last call came he simply stood by the railing and as the band played started to wave to the people on the dock as the ship moved away from it’s mooring. In a momentous decision he became a stowaway on the Titanic!
In the beginning hours his uniform was an asset as he meandered among the passengers and helped older ladies. However, when the crew members started throwing inquisitive glances his way he threw his uniform overboard and went down to mingle among the steerage passengers of different ethnicities.
Once out to sea some of the crew were assigned to look for stowaways. Johnny was eventually found out along with four others. The captain gave orders that since they were on board they would have to work their way across.
They became stokers, shoveling coal into the huge furnaces that powered the Titanic. After three days Johnny was sore all over but proud to be carrying his own on such a magnificent vessel.
He was in his bunk sleeping when he felt a strong shudder as the ship shook and a loud hissing sound emanated from the engine room! Several of them dressed and rushed up to the deck to see the ship with which they thought they had collided, never expecting to see an iceberg instead!
Soon the ship began to list. Johnny ran back down to try to find the Stantons. When he found them already with life preservers and saw their shocked looks at seeing him, he quickly told them he had stowed away. Calmly they all went to the upper deck where women and children were already getting into lifeboats.
They had left Kaspar behind and Lizziebeth broke away to go get him. Johnny caught up to her and convinced her to go back and get on the lifeboat with her mother. He promised he would get Kaspar, which he did with difficulty.
Struggling to get back up he found his way barred. With Mr. Stanton’s help they reached his wife as her lifeboat was being lowered. Johnny stretched over and handed her the blanket.
As the ship listed more and started to sink faster some crew members had managed to get a canvas boat up from below but needed more hands to shove it overboard. Mr. Stanton and Johnny went to help. At that moment a huge wave came over the ship and swept the canvas boat and those around it into the sea!
As Johnny was drawn deeper underwater he held his breath as he fought to swim to the top. He finally had to open his mouth to breathe and as water rushed into his mouth he broke to the surface, spluttering and choking, in the midst of hundreds of floating bodies. He turned and saw the Titanic slipping into the ocean. He heard someone calling him.
His legs were cramping and he was shivering from the icy waters. The exertion had left him depleted of energy. It was Mr. Stanton. He was making his way to the upturned canvas boat.
Johnny was exhausted and wondered if he would make it, if all his dreams of America and seeing Lizziebeth and Kaspar would end up at the bottom of the sea like the great Titanic…
Note: I liked the story enough to find and purchase the hardcover edition to add to my collection. It’s a nice book with a title and cover different from the Audiobook: Kaspar, The Titanic Cat. It is illustrated by Michael Foreman. There are quite a few pictures and they are so well done that I was able to relive the story merely by going through them.
Having purchased the audio book first I was oblivious to the fact this is a children’s book. I only discovered it was when looking for the hardcover. Notwithstanding, it still is an enjoyable read or listen for anyone of any age. – Marilu Shellie