Book Review: The Rabbi’s Cat 2 by Joann Sfar (Series, #2) (Graphic Novel)
The talking cat with the big ears who offers insightful commentary on his rabbi master and life in Algeria in the early 20th century is back. The rabbi’s daughter is fighting with her husband (also a rabbi), and the cat is quite happy with that. It means more snuggles from his mistress, Zlabya. Of course, the talking cat also has a couple of adventures. First he and a snake tag along with the famous Malka and his lion on a trek around the desert. Then, a stowaway Russian Jew shows up in Zlabya’s house, and he understands the cat! Soon a rag-tag bunch are off looking for the mysterious lost city of Jerusalem. We thus get to see a lot of Africa through the cat’s eyes.
I have to say, I didn’t enjoy this sequel quiiite as much as the original. I suspect that the fact that I was less familiar with the topics the cat is offering snarky commentary on had something to do with this. I really don’t know much about Northern Africa or the “lost city of Jerusalem,” so I’m sure I missed some of the inside jokes. Whereas the previous book was mostly about Jews in Algeria and the French occupation, this book seems to talk a lot more about the relative merits of the various monotheistic religions and why can’t we all just be friends.
While on their various treks, the groups run across some Muslim tribes who state that Jews are their brothers who they respect, but it is still their duty to attempt to get them to convert. The rabbi eloquently states that he is too old to learn a new language for prayer, and he is sure god will understand. Similarly, the Russian Jew falls in love with an African woman (I am uncertain from which country), and they ask the rabbi to marry them. He says he can only marry two Jews, and she states she is glad to take her husband’s god as her own. Exasperated, the rabbi states it is not that simple, she must study for years, but then relents when seeing how in love they are and says that god will understand. The cat too has learned when to hold his tongue around extremists, although he still offers commentary to the other animals, whether over an obsessive Muslim prince or a Kabbalistic elderly rabbi. What is incited repeatedly in this book is extremism in favor of tolerance and love, which is certainly always a good message.
The other message is never to judge someone as less intelligent than you simply because they speak a different language or their ways are different. I really like how this is carried over into the animal kingdom where the cat even seeks to understand the snake. At first the cat thinks the snake just willy-nilly bites people and animals, but then he realizes that this is his only tool of friendship. And yet although we should seek to understand, the cat also doesn’t hang around too long anyone who is extremist or annoying. The Muslim prince and the English explorer (who thinks the Algerians don’t bathe) are both quickly dumped by the traveling group.
While these are all good messages, I must say I missed the no holding back talking cat of the first book. I suppose he’s older and wiser, but I like him precisely because I can’t imagine a talking cat ever actually holding his tongue. Seeing him do so in this book made me kind of sad. Also, I feel like the story of Zlabya and her husband got dumped partway through and never picked back up. We know they’re fighting a lot, but then we just leave them and go off on an adventure across Africa. It felt like a final chapter was missing from the book.
Overall, this is an interesting look at the intersection of many cultures, religions, and races on the continent of Africa through the unique eyes of a rabbi’s cat, a wandering lion, and a friendly snake. If you enjoyed the first book, you shouldn’t skip this one.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
Specific country? Algeria, primarily