Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The Rabbi's Cat

Title: The Rabbi's Cat
Writer and Artist: Joann Sfar

Image via Read Comics

As I've written in previous posts, My Wife is really good at ordering in restaurants.  Given that she is an excellent cook, it really comes as no surprise that she's generally a better eater than I am.  She's also read a lot more than I have.  So, I really shouldn't be surprised that she's also really good at finding high quality comic books.  Three of the best comics I have discovered over the past several months have been books that she found first: Drops of God, Persepolis and now The Rabbi's Cat.  It's also worth noting that all three titles are non-American - the first one Japanese and the latter two French. 

The Rabbi's Cat is a very charming tale about a Jewish family of three in 1930s Algeria: father, daughter and cat.  While the cat is never actually named, he does serve as the narrator of the story.  This English language edition includes the first three installments of the series (there are two more in The Rabbi's Cat 2).  In the first chapter, entitled "The Bar Mitzvah," the cat eats a parrot and takes on its powers of speech.  Adventures ensue.

I'm always fascinated by the great cultural crossroads of the world and Algeria certainly qualifies.  Furthermore, the most interesting perspective on a culture is often from the bottom social stratum upwards and the Jewish community in that era was severely marginalized.  While each chapter presents a distinct story, the basic elements of cultural conflict - national, racial and mostly religious - are central to all.  The family's adventures eventually take them to Paris as well, providing yet more variants to the cultural tableau.

Not all of the foreign titles I have tried have been winners but I am certainly appreciating the general trend which Scott McCloud wrote about in Reinventing Comics: Japan and Continental Europe are far ahead of the USA and UK in terms of offering intelligent general interest comics.  I'm definitely well-invested in Sfar's characters and will keep an eye out for the second book.

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