Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Rabbi's Cat 1 & 2, By Joann Sfar-- Review

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar is a really interesting graphic novel. The setting is truly fantastic, 1930's French Algeria in North Africa. This adds an exotic, almost mystical quality to the book. The artwork is very beautiful and different than most graphic novels which I haveseen. The books are illustrated in full color with strong earthtones. The descriptive boxes use a fluid cursive script which I haven't seen used before in graphic novels. The word bubbles are filled in with a neat pen handwriting. The actual panels appear to be handpainted and inked without typesetting.

Another of the authors books, a children's book, Little Vampire Goes to School was on the New York Times Bestseller list. The author is French so the book has a different sensibility than most graphic novels I have read which are either American, Spanish, or Japanese. On the back flap of the book cover is a picture of the author holding a grey cat which the author must have used as a model for the Rabbi's cat.

This is the story of the Rabbi's cat who eats the Rabbi's obnoxious parrot and then begins to speak. It tells a philosophical story of how the cat first wants to learn the Kabbalah, but then asks to become Bar Mitzvahed because he is too young to learn mysticism. The cat studies with the Rabbi. The cat is absolutely loyal to the Rabbi's daughter his mistress.

A whole series of adventures follows. The best part of the graphic novel are the characters and their development; there is Malka of the Lions, a wandering storyteller with a pet lion, Jules Nahaum a French Rabbi, and Sheikh Muhammad Sfar a singer, poet, and freind of the Rabbi.

Numerous details liven the story up. In one scene, the cat is talking to a donkey because animals can talk to each other, but humans can't understand what they are saying. The Rabbi says it is time to sit down because the animals are making too much noise. Because the main character is a cat, it can follow people around, watch what people are doing, and make comments which would be inappropriate if he was a person.

The second book is even better than the first book. It has much more intense, fantastic stories than the first book. The cat travels through the desert with Malka of the Lions, listens to Malka and talks to the old lion. He even has dangerous encounters with a scorpion and a snake. It gets even better when a Russian Jew appears in a crate. The Russian is seeking the land of Jerusalem in Africa. He is referring to the Falasha in black Africa. They assemble a group of people to make the journey from "North Africa" to "Black Africa", a sheikh, the rabbi, the Russian Jew who is a painter, the cat, and a few others. Numerous adventures follow. They even run into Tintin.

This story is for adults, there is sex, violence, racism, and religious conflict throughout both of these books. This makes the books tell a very interesting, sometimes profound story. It is very enjoyable reading. Some people may not like this book because parts of it are definitely blasphemous from a strict religious point of view. There is also some use of curse words and foul language. The second book is much more explicit. It includes some drawings of sex. This is not done in a prurient way.

Also, sometimes the story wanders a bit. I like that it wanders because it provides a variety of different views of Algeria. This is definitely not a book for children. The artwork is very nice to look at. I think both of the books are worth reading. However, I think people will have very different opinions on the graphic novels because of the way it is written. I personally would give it a five stars, but some people might find it objectionable enough to give it a one star.

Amazon did not have a picture for this one.


DineometerDeb said...

Excellent review. You captured the qualities of the book so well! Looks like I will have to track down a copy of the second book.

Book Calendar said...

Thanks so much for your input.