February 1, 2009

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The Rabbi's Cat

Written by Joann Sfar
Illustrated by Joann Sfar
Pantheon

Joann Sfar is one half of the team that produces Dungeon, a great series featuring the adventures of a duck in a dungeon. Yeah, remember never to mess with a duck in a dungeon. This is the second solo work of his I've read, the other I didn't much care for but can't find my note to at the moment, so that will sit for another time.

Meanwhile, what happens when you get a sentient cat that lives with a Rabbi?

This is the story of a jewish cat, who looks at the world very differently from that of his master, the rabbi. When he eats a talking parrot, he gains speech, and immediately starts challenging the ideas held sacred by the rabbi, confronting him constantly about all sorts of issues. I don't know much about jewish theology, so I can't speak for how good this part of the book is, but from what I could tell, I thought it was well handled.

When it looks like the rabbi may lose his position, the cat makes a desperate bid to help him, doing the forbidden--calling on the name of g-d. This has a serious impact on the rest of the book, for both the cat and the rabbi himself.

As the book progresses, through the eyes of the cat we see the rabbi's life change in dramatic ways, leading to a climax in where his very faith is tested. This is a great moment, and my only quibble is that Sfar really doesn't do much with it afterwards. We get a changed rabbi at the very end, who confuses his congregation with his new words, but it just seems like there should have been more.

There's a lot of great things about this book--the way Sfar draws a sleek, active cat (modeled after his own, he notes). The cat as amoral narrator, commenting without the human influences normal burdening the viewpoint. The way the philosophy falls into place without sounding preachy or tin-eared. It's obvious Sfar took pains to make this work, and she should be praised for it. This is a very solid read that I think anyone would like.