Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Rabbi's Cat 2

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Rabbi's Cat 2 (Pantheon, 2008).

The very ugly talking cat came back for two more stories by Joann Sfar. These were originally published in France in the mid-2000s in the "annual album" format common to Europe. The first is a 48-page story called "Heaven and Earth," and then I believe the series was wrapped up in 2006's double-sized "Africa's Jerusalem." Pantheon collected both stories in a handsome hardcover that matches the first volume.

I really, really enjoy Joann Sfar's work. I love the way that he designs characters who are not at all attractive by the conventional standards of the medium, but who display such evocative body language. I love how he brings to life characters who are really taken with the wild and wonderful world around them, and I love how he deflates their egos through the use of a cynical cat who doesn't quite understand human foibles.

Again, the setting is Algiers in the 1930s, and after following the rabbi's weird, womanizing cousin and his lion around for a while, the cat tries to live a normal life, but the arrival of a comatose Russian in a box complicates things and causes great debate among the community's leaders. After he awakens, the stranger puts some of the locals on the trail of a legendary city deep in Africa that is said to be home to the first, black, Jews. The expedition finds the characters confronting racial attitudes of Europeans and hot-tempered young men who think they know their holy books better than they actually do, and finding true love, bloodshed and... a talkative reporter with funny hair and a little white dog? And all the while, the cat's rabbi finds more things to debate and to argue. One conversation's descent into a debate on the quality of his coffee is a total riot.

It's a wonderful and rich pair of comics, and I like Pantheon's presentation a lot, even if some of the lettering - presumably a close match for the original - challenged my fading vision a little. I was sorry that the rabbi's daughter Zlabaya had less to do in these stories; she was much more fun and enlivened the stories in the first volume. If Sfar ever returns to the characters, I would happily read their stories. Recommended for older readers.

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