The Jewish Eye
The Rabbi's Cat
The Rabbi's Cat
(Chat du Rabbin)
By Joann Sfar
Translated by Alexis Siegel and Anjali Singh
Pantheon Books, New York: 2005
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - August 7, 2007
The Rabbi's Cat is an astonishing graphic novel by Joann Sfar. Originally published in French as Chat du Rabbin, this novel has been expertly translated into English by Alexis Siegel and Anjali Singh. Set in the 1930's, this is a humourous novel that sheds a unique light on the Algerian Jewish community of that period. It is also filled with compelling historical and geographical details which serve to create a vivid backdrop for the story. The story is also infused with overtones of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Most important, the artwork in this graphic novel is delightful, full of rich details, and quirky tidbits that are fun to pick out.
The story follows the adventures of an Algerian Rabbi, his daughter Zlabya, and their talking cat, who gained the power of speech after eating a parrot. When Zlabya falls in love with a young Rabbi from a very secular family, the whole group moves to Paris, where the young couple soon weds. In France, the Rabbi and his talking cat have many fine adventures, both in studying Torah together, discussing the varied aspects of Judaism, such as can a cat have a Bar Mitzvah, and in investigating their new surroundings. Sfar also offers us a glimpse into the lives of Zlabya and her new husband as they learn to live not only with each other - but also their respective in-laws.
Sfar is a marvelously talented comic artist, and while some may see graphic novels as solely the purview of children - this is definitely a book written for adults (there are some adult themes and very brief nudity in the book). The tale is complex, esoteric and rambling at times, which might turn off some younger readers, however they will still find much to love about this book, especially the cat's many misdeeds (The cat likes to lie a lot!). Funny, and urbane, this book will delight readers of more serious books as well as those just looking for a good giggle.
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