An Algerian rabbi’s cat gains the power of speech, giving it all the greater ability for mischief.
This first major English-language graphic novel by French comic whirlwind Sfar (Dungeon, 2004, etc.) is an initially whimsical but ultimately bracing fable. Set in 1930s French colonial Algeria, the story concerns a rabbi’s cat that learns to speak after eating its master’s talking parrot. The rabbi—a rotund and somewhat underappreciated fellow who’s in danger of being supplanted by a younger and more book-smart rabbi from France—is devastated by this development, especially when he finds the cat has a sarcastic tongue and likes to get into tangled theological debates. The story meanders about in an easygoing manner, following the rabbi’s daughter’s love life, a journey to Paris and the cat’s various musings on life—when, that is, he’s not causing trouble (“I tell the rabbi’s rabbi that I am God, who has taken the appearance of a cat in order to test him”). Although dusted with fantasy, the book is powerfully real, etched with the dark shadows of an ancient society where Jews, French and Arabs mixed, a world soon to be swept away by the winds of war and modernity. Sfar’s artwork is playfully exaggerated, adding to the otherworldly feel here, while his writing is smart and sharp, perfectly counteracting any burgeoning colonial-era nostalgia the pages might evoke.
An unexpectedly haunting work from a major talent.