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A wonderful new graphic novel, "The Rabbi's Cat"

book coverI don't have much of an excuse for writing about this wonderful graphic novel on the KlezmerShack except for the fact that it is, in fact, a wonderful graphic novel. And, among the wonders of this collection of stories about an Algerian rabbi, his daughter, and his cat (narrated by the cat) is some great music. So, genug.

Since the beginning of the summer, I have been trying to catch up on some non-fiction reading. In particular, I have been asking myself, "what is Jewish writing today." There is no shortage of answers, ranging from the works of writers as diverse as Saul Bellow to Michael Chabon in which characters happen to be Jewish, but which do not, to me, sing of what it means to be a Jew. I expected to find refuge in Israeli writer David Grossman, who is one of my favorite writers, but catching up on a couple of recent books left me cold. Wonderful as novels, they, too, seemed "just novels" in which the Israeli setting was, again, part of the setting, but not the point or question of the works.

At this point I began feeling that I was being stupid. It is rare enough to find a book worth reading. Grossman's luminous language and humanity should be enough. But it also wasn't what I was looking for.

An Allegra Goodman book that had been sitting on the shelf for a while, "Paradise Park", for all of the obtuseness of the main character, and the silliness of many of the scenes, rollicked into familiar territory. It was the first of the recent Jewish books to speak to me from something that felt like Jewish immersion (strange, if you consider how little of the novel has anything to do with Jewish practice or life inside a Jewish community). It was certainly more fulfilling than Nathan Auslander's "Beware of God", a collection of short stories that mostly shrieked, "I have broken away from religion and I'm going to blaspheme like only a former yeshiva bokher can". I was especially disappointed because I heard him tell a story about Hebrew school on "This American Life" one afternoon and was entranced.

Intro this ennui steps French graphic novelist Joann Sfar with an entirely original take on Jewish storytelling. A Jewish graphic novel that doesn't talk about the Holocaust and isn't about some existentially lost real estate photographer. It doesn't even have much to say about Ashkenazim in any context. Instead, the novel is set in Algeria (and a bit in Paris) sometime prior to the revolution—the review I read that pointed me to the book suggests that it takes place between the two world wars, which seems plausible, but I'd have to ask the author. The novel says much about life, about living Jewishly, and about faith and people and the impact of modernity on old laws and customs, and it is absolutely, rollickingly funny and wise and beautifully drawn. Once I sat down to begin reading I couldn't stop.

Oh, yes, and did I mention the music? There is great music, not least a wonderful scene between the Rabbi and a Sufi jam together in the desert on their way to visit the same shrine.

Next up, I'm going to see if American Poet Laureate (and fellow Jew) Robert Pinsky's new "biography" of King David approaches the humor and intrigue of the late Stefan Heym's often-brilliant "King David Report".


Hello... You're quite late... In France this novel is a best seller for 4-5 years ! And now I'm waiting the number five... And it will speak about the ashkenazim !
That's great that this incredible novel were translated in English !

That's great that there are more! Let's spread the word so that this one gets a readership and more get translated.


Talk to after our Havurah Reads group in Middlebury, Vt finishes its discussion this Wednesday, Dec 2, 2005.

Need some advice for our next book. Sounds like David will do fine.

Sadly, I must report that the Robert Pinsky "King David" is least impressive. Have your book group ready Stefan Heym's book, instead. Quite a delight.

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