The Rabbi’s Cat 2 By Joann Sfar

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The Rabbi’s Cat 2
By Joann Sfar

Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat series is comprised of the kinds of books beloved by many comics-inclined adults: packaged like children’s books, they read as if they were written for grown-ups. Beyond making great reading material for the subway (so that you can watch other people secretly watching you), these books mingle simplicity with profundity, spicing up easy-to-follow plot with sophisticated twists, and boast art that is both fun and innovative.

Sfar posited the stories of the rabbi’s cat firmly in this category with the first book, which came out in 2005. The second in the series, the simply titled The Rabbi’s Cat 2, lives up to the high standards set by its predecessor with more clear, clever writing and lively art.

Like the original book, this sequel is narrated by the talking cat of an Algerian rabbi and split into two parts. The first tells the tale of the rabbi’s cousin, Malka of the Lions, and the second that of a Russian Jewish painter who accidentally ends up in the rabbi’s village. Sfar imparts both tales with subtle wit, mixing up ordinary circumstances with imaginative premises. His unwieldy tales of desert wanderings, lost cities, and overzealous religious leaders, juxtaposed with the humanity and imperfection of his main characters, allow him to use stories that are anything but ordinary to make astute observations about issues that are closer to home for the reader, such as the challenges of maintaining religious faith and the difficulties of marriage.

Happily, these observations never come across as pedantic or forceful—only wise and appropriate. In large part, this stems from the fact that the reader is experiencing the world through the eyes of a cat, which gives the book the feeling of a fable. The talking cat causes us to willingly suspend our disbelief from the very beginning, and we exchange reality for stories with occasional morals and lessons.

All this, and the language still manages to remain simple. Sfar adheres to the premise that, although the protagonist is quite an intelligent cat, he is just a cat and probably shouldn’t be using very complex language. The unaffected writing also links the book back to the its packaging, which, as a hardcover with a large trim size, makes it look like children’s literature.

Like the language, the art is also deceptively simple. Sfar maintains the format of six same-sized panels per page with narration text at the top of each frame, and the perspective is fairly straightforward and head-on. Through the use of dramatic shading and brilliant color, however, the drawings start to feel energetic to the point of motion. The art comes alive and almost seems animated.

Sfar adds to this effect through his distinctive characters, which all have unique features, whether a round face, a sharply pointed nose, or almond-shaped eyes. When multiple people are combined in one frame, the resulting juxtaposition creates a cartoonish energy. And as everyone’s features clash, so too do their personalities.

Having found The Rabbi’s Cat series in the Young Adult section of the New York Public Library, I assume that’s where it is housed in most libraries. But don’t pass it up thinking you’re too old for it. It has a lot to tell you.

–Jillian Steinhauer

2 Comments to “The Rabbi’s Cat 2 By Joann Sfar”

  1. Paul | August 18th, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Sfar is great! I’m looking forward to reading this one.

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