Monday, November 15, 2010

The Rabbi's Cat

As a fable or a parable, this book begins with a basic yet significant premise: the Rabbi's cat has gained the amazing ability to speak. The problem? He only tells lies. In response to this awful behavior, the Rabbi forbids the cat to spend any time with his daughter, lest he fill her head with falsehoods and nonsense. This crushes the cat who seeks her approval and affection and so he asks the Rabbi to teach him the Talmud so that he can become a better creature. The theological implications of the cat's request boggle the Rabbi's mind, especially when he starts asking for a Bar Mitzvah. Dealing with this situation requires compromises by all parties involved, especially when a young rabbi comes courting the Rabbi's daughter.

The creator behind this Eisner Award winning graphic novel is Joann Sfar, a French artist with more than 100 books to his credit since 1994. Sfar has won many awards for his work in Europe and the US, and he is well known for his series of Sardine in Outer Space and various Little Vampire books. He has a pretty sardonic sense of humor, as seen in the English version of his homepage.

The story takes place in the 1930's in Algiers, while it was still under French control, and it is replete with complicated religious and philosophical matters. This particular volume encompasses a wide range of story, as it contains the first three volumes Sfar published in France (there are 5 total). This dense yet energetic work has received some very positive reactions. Reviewer Douglas Wolk praised the strength of Sfar's level of detail regarding personalities and life observations. The Comics Shrew wrote that the book is not traditionally pretty but that it "on the whole is quite lovely and highly recommended whatever the status of your beliefs." NPR's Laurel Maury called it "a rare book that makes talk of art, faith and humanity as exciting as a rollicking thriller."

This graphic novel has also been made into a soon-to-be-released motion picture.

A preview is provided here from the book's publisher Pantheon Graphic Novels.

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