Monday, April 28, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: The Rabbi's Cat 2, by Joann Sfar

The Rabbi's Cat 2, by Joann Sfar. Published: 2008 by Pantheon. Fiction. Graphica. Translated from the French.

When The Rabbi's Cat came out several years ago, it caused a bit of a sensation in the graphic novel world. Author and illustrator Joann Sfar had been a well-known and respected children's author and illustrator in his native France for years, and The Rabbi's Cat was one of his first graphic novels to hit the United States, and its beautiful art and funny, sweet storytelling made a big splash. The story is about a cat living in Algeria in the 1930s with a rabbi and his daughter, who gains the power of human speech after killing and eating a parrot. He then proceeds to engage his rabbi owner in a series of Talmudic discussions. Later, the rabbi's daughter becomes engaged to a Parisian rabbi, and her loving cat is right there, providing his singularly feline point of view.

The follow-up, released earlier this month, is a fitting and fine sequel. In The Rabbi's Cat 2, we find out that the cat, still nameless, can speak not only French but Russian and Aramaic as well. There are two stories in the second volume. In the first part, the character Malka of the Lions, an old inveterate storyteller and scam artist, returns from the first book for more journeys. The second story starts when a Russian Jewish painter ends up in Algeria on his way to Ethiopia to find a fabled community of Ethiopian Jews living in the New Jerusalem. The rabbi, the artist, the cat and some new friends bundle off for Ethiopia, and what follows abounds with Sfar's characteristic humor, pathos, and sweetness.

I love these books. Sfar's expressive, slightly loopy artwork captures the characters' emotions and Findakly creates a vivid, lush landscape; the cat's sparkling green eyes and the gorgeous clothes and scenery add beauty and exoticism to the story. The cat is a great character- bratty, pushy and stubborn, yet full of genuine affection for his people, he's Everycat, and Sfar does a wonderful job bringing out his personality. I always appreciate how Sfar portrays a multicultural, multi ethnic society where people can live together peacefully- although maybe in this book, slightly less peacefully than in the first. There is a little violence and some sex in this volume, which, like the first, render it unsuitable for children but probably fine for older teens and adults.
personalities beautifully; he makes both the people and animals come alive. Colorist Brigitte

None of these elements detract from the overall appeal though. I really can't say enough good things about this terrific book. Funny, beautiful and sweet, The Rabbi's Cat 2 is a real winner. Go read it!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


Anonymous said...

hi there is a fellow librarian and an author. enjoyed reading some of your reviews. algerian in the
1930s was a french colony, not a pretty picture by any measure, i hope you'd agree. does the writer touch on colonialism in the two cat books? or does it not touch the main characters? just curious!

- moazzam

moazzam sheikh said...

thanks for leaving a comment on my in-progress blog. one of the reasons why colonialism surfaced in my mind with regards to Algeria was the fact algerian jews were granted french citizenship in 1870. also french jews look down upon algerian jews as uncivilized and pushed for their westernization. so it is interesting to see the algerian rabbi giving his daughter to a parisian rabbi - a typical colonial paradigm, without even mentioning colonialism.
- moazzam

Marie Cloutier said...

thanks for commenting and leaving your insights. I appreciate the perspective! I admit I hadn't analyzed the politics of the book and I'm glad to have your point of view. :-)

moazzam sheikh said...

hi marie,
i truly appreciate your open-mindedness. please visit my blog from time to time since i'll be often talking about such issue (orientalism, colonialism,race relations, sexism, class issues) in film and literature, academia, cafes and public transportation and of course libraries.
- moazzam

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I ADORE Sfar's works. Glad to meet someone who's as nuts for him as I am!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I found this post, I had no idea there was a "Rabbi's Cat 2". The Rabbi' Cat was my first and only graphic novel last winter and I loved it. I'm going to find out if my library has this one right away. Thanks for writing about this.