Read: 23 October, 2016
The Rabbi’s Cat is a slow, meandering snapshot of life in an Algerian rabbi’s household, as narrated by his pet cat. The cat begins to speak, and so the rabbi must prepare him for his bar mitzvah. The family gets a visit from cousin Malka and his pet lion. The rabbi must pass a dictation test to determine his rabbinical placement. The rabbi’s daughter marries, and the whole household goes to Paris to meet her new in-laws. Things happen, the characters talk and feel and live, and issues are resolved after a fashion, enough to make way for the next. I wouldn’t be surprised if each chapter had originally been published serially.
I picked this book out at the library, knowing absolutely nothing about it, because the cover looked interesting. Unlike the last time I did this, this time was actually a very pleasant surprise.
The artwork is beautiful. It has a lot of character, and it shifts with mood to enhance the storytelling. As I’ve been trying to read some more superhero comics, which tend to favour a more “realistic” style (albeit with idealised bodies), this kind of expressive artwork has been missing.
I also found that the style reminded me a lot of the French comic books that I used to read as a child. I felt very vindicated when I found out that the artist does, in fact, belong to the French graphic novel tradition!
The story itself is delightful. Most of the characters are fairly archetypal, but we spend a lot of time getting into the rabbi’s head. He’s a complicated person who is seen wrestling with his faith. In the beginning, it’s more intellectual, as he tries to teach the cat in preparation for his bar mitzvah and they argue theology. Later, when his daughter marries and he feels abandoned, it brings his grief over his deceased wife back to the forefront. It’s very touching, often funny, and so very human.
The novel had a somewhat mythic feel to it, particularly where the animals were involved. It read a bit like a parable, making its Jewishness all the more palpable.
I really enjoyed this one. It was cute, and heartwarming, and entertaining. The cat was amusing, and the storytelling was very well adapted to its medium.
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