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Book Review: The Rabbi’s Cat 2 by Joann Sfar (Series, #2) (Graphic Novel)

People sitting around a fire with a cat and a lion.Summary:
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.

Review:
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

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Previous Books in Series:
The Rabbi’s Cat (review)

Counts For:

Specific country? Algeria, primarily

 

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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