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Book Review: The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)

January 17, 2012 7 comments

Jewish girl holding a gray cat.Summary:
The rabbi’s cat gives us a glimpse inside the home world of an Orthodox Rabbi and his young adult daughter in Algeria in the 1930s.  The cat is who we could call the “questioning” member of the family, a fact that isn’t too bothersome until one day he gains the ability to speak.

Review:
I loooove animal perspective books, and the drawing of Zbalya holding the cat on the cover was so adorable that I just had to grab this off the library shelf.  I was not disappointed.

Although I think anyone could enjoy this book, it definitely helps to have a bit of an understanding of how Orthodox Judaism works in order to catch some of the inside jokes.  The first chapter sucks you right in when the cat eats the “forbidden fruit”–the family’s pet parrot.  This renders him with the ability to speak.  Since I don’t have the book right in front of me, I can’t quote, but allow me to paraphrase the first conversation the cat has with the rabbi:

Rabbi: You ate the parrot!

Cat: No, I did not.

Rabbi: You are lying!

Cat: I am not lying, I am questioning. Good Jews question.

Rabbi: You are not a Jew.

Cat: Why not? You’re a Jew, and you are my master.

Rabbi: You are not circumcised.

Cat: I’m a cat. Cats can’t be circumcised.

Rabbi: Fine, but you have not been bar mitzvahed.

Cat: I am only 7.

Rabbi: In cat years that is 49.

Cat: Fine, than bar mitzvah me.

The rabbi agrees to start teaching him the Torah, and the questioning and ridiculousness continues.  It’s completely hilarious.

The cat is everything you imagine a cat to be–snarky, questioning, judgmental, but ultimately wants nothing more than to be held by Zbalya while she studies or sleeps, which leads directly into the second conflict in chapter two–Zbalya gets married and leaves the cat behind in her father’s household.  The final chapter covers a family visit to Paris to meet Zbalya’s husband’s family.

The drawings are rich and quirky.  The cat is not a beautiful cat, but he with his big ears and funky body shape matches the tongue in cheek witticisms of the story.  Algeria and Paris are exquisitely drawn, albeit from a cat-eye perspective.

It’s obvious that Sfar respects Judaism yet questions some of the rigorous rules of Orthodox Judaism.  Among the things the cat questions are Shabbat rules, why he can no longer sleep in his mistress’s room after she is married, why humans are so secretive about sex, why questioning is supposedly welcomed yet it annoys the humans, and why the name of god must not be spoken aloud except in prayer.  Even if you’re not religious, the book does make you wonder just what your pets think about your own habits and belief systems when they’re not purring in your lap.

Overall, this was a fun book with a cool perspective on Orthodox Judaism, Algeria, and Paris.  Although the last chapter wasn’t as strong as the first two, it was still well-worth the read, and I am eagerly anticipating diving into the next entry.

I recommend this to cat lovers and those with a knowledge of Judaism.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Book Review: The Group by Mary McCarthy

April 14, 2011 2 comments

Black and white picture of a group of women.Summary:
A collection of women graduate from Vassar in the 1930s.  Their friendship is known collectively as “The Group,” and their distinctive Vassar education has given them a distinctly liberal view on the world.  How this changes with time as they repeatedly encounter societal expectations and relationship problems are told through a series of vignettes that focus in on moments in their lives over the seven years after graduation.

Review:
I am so glad that Nymeth’s review made me add this to my wishlist.  This piece of historical fiction told entirely through women’s lives looks at women’s issues in an oft-ignored time period–1930s America.  Particular issues that impact these women’s lives and dreams include birth control, gender norms, violence against women, and social justice.

Moving smoothly through the seven years but changing perspectives by spending a chapter or two on each woman in turn, we get a glimpse of their lives.  For instance, early in the book we see Kay’s life in detail, but later we only catch glimpses of it through her friends’ eyes.  This lends a greater sense of depth and mystery to these women’s lives.  What happened to change them?  How drastic of an impact did certain events have on their lives?  Are they truly happy now?  Much like real life, the reader can only speculate based on the limited information she has.

The style of looking at women’s issues in history through the lives of multiple women lends a depth to the story that would not be there if it was told in the traditional manner of focusing in on one single woman.  The, essentially, cluster-fuck of circumstances, expectations, and personality that come together to create the different lives they end up leading is endlessly fascinating to study and ponder.

This book humanizes women’s issues in the 1930s and brings them to light in an engrossing manner.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of historic fiction or an interest in women’s issues.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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