This has been on my wishlist for ages because the promise of representing practicing Jewish characters in the graphic novel format (by an #ownvoices author!!!) sounded just like my kind of thing.
Set in Algeria in the 1930s, a cat belonging to a widowed rabbi and his beautiful daughter, Zlabya, eats the family parrot and gains the ability to speak. To his master’s consternation, the cat immediately begins to tell lies (the first being that he didn’t eat the parrot). The rabbi vows to educate him in the ways of the Torah, while the cat insists on studying the kabbalah and having a Bar Mitzvah. They consult the rabbi’s rabbi, who maintains that a cat can’t be Jewish — but the cat, as always, knows better.
Zlabya falls in love with a dashing young rabbi from Paris, and soon master and cat, having overcome their shared self-pity and jealousy, are accompanying the newlyweds to France to meet Zlabya’s cosmopolitan in-laws. Full of drama and adventure, their trip invites countless opportunities for the rabbi and his cat to grapple with all the important — and trivial — details of life.
There’s so much I crave to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning:
These topics are ones I see and talk about in my daily life, but unfortunately rarely in the books I read… So I’ll never stop thanking Joann Sfar for giving Jews this major platform. And I loved the concept of the cat wanting to study the Kabbalah, since I recently got myself a book on the same topic.
I was expecting this book to focus heavily on Zlabya and the cat (since they’re on the book cover), but that wasn’t the case. The Rabbi’s Cat, like the title suggest, is more about the bickering between the Rabbi and his cat, which I gradually grew fond of.On that note, I laughed uncontrollably a number of times at some of the more crude remarks made by the cat, such as:
I still feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to see these kinds of conversations in a book!!!Ha! Family is everything…
But with all that I loved, once the family traveled to Paris – to meet with the family of Zlabya’s husband – the narrative became a bit unclear. Plus, the emphasis on Jewish traditions being slowly dropped to make place for Western culture made the graphic novel deteriorate in quality for me. I cherished The Rabbi’s Cat for solely focusing on Jews in Algeria and their customs and traditions. So when halfway through the storyline shifted to make space for Western culture, I was let down. The author had such a great opportunity to educate and enlighten people on Sephardi Jews – which he did greatly for the first half – but then in the last part decides to give the spotlight once again to the Westerns…
I wish this moment would’ve been expanded to talk more about how messed up some
white people are…
All in all: The Rabbi’s Cat is something I’ll cherish for a long time to come; it’s not everyday that you find something so close to home. And thankfully there’s a movie adaptation that I plan on watching next!