By Symi Rom-Rymer
While perusing the bookshelves at Barnes and Nobel yesterday, I came across a wonderful graphic novel entitled The Rabbi’s Cat by the French author, Joann Sfar, best known in the US for his children’s series, The Little Vampire. The Rabbi’s Cat tells the story of a Rabbi, his daughter Zlabya, and their talking cat who live in Algiers in the 1930s when Algeria was still part of France. Narrated by the cat, who is studying to become Bar Mitzvah, the intricate illustrations and the gentle, yet poignant story line draws readers into a seemingly simple world that soon reveals itself in all its complexities. Situated on the line between perfect and flawed, wise and bumbling, sacred and profane, Sfar’s characters made me nostalgic for a time and place that exists only within his, and now my, imagination. But the themes that he draws upon— internal religious struggle, familial bonds, and humanness—are very real and very contemporary.The only drawback of the book is the unwritten epilogue. Although only we know it of course, Sfar’s creations are heading for an abyss that they do not see. I can only hope that, with the help of an ever-wise magical cat, they will manage to survive.
Even if the very thought of a graphic novel finds you running towards the nearest exit, resist. This is most definitely a book worth getting to know.
Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe. She has been published in JTA, The Christian Science Monitor and Jewcy.