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  • The Rabbi's Cat



    The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar

    "Sfar, the French cartoonist behind the 'Little Vampire' children's books, has come up with a hilarious and wildly original graphic novel for adults. The nameless, scraggly-looking alley cat who narrates the story belongs to an Algerian rabbi in the '30s. When the cat eats a parrot, he gains the power of speech and tries to convince his master to teach him the Torah, raising the question of whether the appropriate age for his bar mitzvah should be in human years or cat years. Of course, being a cat, he has plenty of impertinent opinions about Judaism. That's a delicious setup on its own, but it gets better when the cat loses his speech again halfway through, and the story becomes a broader, more bittersweet comedy about the rabbi's family and the intersection of Jewish, Arab and French culture. The rabbi's daughter Zlabya marries a young man from a non-observant family in France. The Algerian family's visit with their Parisian in-laws is the subject of the final and funniest section of the book. Sfar's artwork looks as mangy and unkempt as the cat, with contorted figures and scribbly lines everywhere, but there's a poetic magic to it that perfectly captures this cat's-eye view of human culture and faith."

    "A slinky gray cat lives with a rabbi and his beautiful young daughter. One day, the feline eats their parrot, only to find that he has gained the birds ability to talk. Witty and highly intelligent, the cat immediately decides that he wants to learn more about Judaism, from the Kabbalah to the Torah. Thus begins this funny, sad, spiritual, and utterly delightful trio of tales. The stories tell much about Jewish life in the 1930s, both in the initial setting of Algeria and in Paris. They also impart Jewish teachings and philosophies in a highly entertaining way, bringing to mind Jostein Gaarders Sophies World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy (Berkley, 1996). Sfar is predominantly known in this country for his Little Vampire childrens series (S & S), and the drawings have the colorful, cartoon quality of those works while still fitting the sophistication of these. His palette is a gorgeous mix of earth tones that perfectly captures the North African setting. There is plenty for teens to like–humor, romance, and theological questioning combined with a folkloric quality to bring to life a multifaceted work. Sfar is highly praised in France; heres hoping more of his creations are translated."

    ~ Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library

  • #2
    Review by Byron Kerman:

    In Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, a cat annoyed with a squawking parrot eats him and miraculously acquires the power to speak. But this cat does more than ask for a bowl of milk in the Queen’s English — he engages a rabbi in Talmudic arguments over the divine.

    “He [the rabbi] tells me that the Greeks believed the dog to be the epitome of the philosophical animal. The dog — not the cat. I reply that the Greeks destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem,” says the cat, “and if a rabbi ends up calling on them for help it means that he’s run out of arguments.”

    The story, told from the cat’s point of view, follows the cat, the rabbi, and his moony daughter in 1930s Algeria, against a backdrop of intricate rugs, family hookahs, stone streets, and casbahs. When the cat isn’t trying to convince the rabbi that he’s ready for a feline bar mitzvah, he’s pining for the rabbi’s comely daughter, swept away by a dashing Parisian Jew.

    Sfar, an author/illustrator of more than 100 comics and children’s books, has fun with the big-eyed, spindly, “wedge-head” cat. The unnamed pet is alternately goofy and clever, and Sfar draws his adventure with a loose, childlike style reminiscent of comics by Richard Sala — it’s enchanting.

    The tale manages to open up some larger issues, too. We’ve all wondered if the intelligent eyes of a cat are capable of picking up on the subtleties of human interaction. Here, the cat adores the rabbi, but questions his impractical service to the Shabbat laws. In turn, the rabbi celebrates God, but, when his daughter leaves cozy Algeria for the daunting metropolis of Paris, has to question the Lord’s plan. The ways of the shepherd are a mystery to the sheep. When a simon-pure yeshiva student sneaks off to the Arab quarter to visit a prostitute, the cat muses on the hypocrisy of man. It’s Animal Farm in Algeria. Insight into squabbles between traditional and assimilated Jews, Jews and Arabs, and Algerians and Frenchmen peppers the action, as well.

    When the cat loses his power to speak, the story does lose some steam. The final act of this three-part tale meanders, and ends on an anticlimax. Still, The Rabbi’s Cat has the sort of elusive charm that scores with child and adult readers, alike. Cats, too.

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    • #3


      The Rabbi's Cat 2 by Joann Sfar

      Joann Sfar's beloved, humorous, and wise talking cat is back for more beautifully illustrated adventures in Algiers and across Africa in the 1930s. While the rabbi is away, his cat tags along with Malka of the Lions (the rabbi's enigmatic cousin), who roams the desert with his ferocious-on-demand lion. Some believe Malka to be a pious Jew, others think he's a shrewd womanizer, but the cat will be the one to discover the surprising truth.

      Back in Algiers, the rabbi's daughter, Zlabya, and her new husband fill the house with their fighting, while the city around them fills with a rising tide of anti-Semitism. On a whim, the rabbi's cat, the rabbi, a sheikh (also a cousin of the rabbi), and a very misplaced Russian painter set out on a fantastic journey (even encountering a young reporter named Tintin in the Congo) in search of an African Jerusalem. It turns out to be very fortuitous that the rabbi's cat is not just a talking cat, but a multilingual talking cat.
      ***

      April 4, 2008 -- Far from being a case of diminishing returns, Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat 2 (Pantheon) is actually more accomplished than the first great volume, with longer story arcs and a more consistently humorous tone contributing to a solider package. Again, Sfar's 1930s Algerian cat protagonist is a cunning mix of amorality and affection. His species gives him access to places most people can't go, but his philosophical dismissal of much of the human experience lends itself to entertaining commentary on what he sees in those places. Sfar cheats on some of the details — the cat can understand all the languages of people and animals, but people can only understand the cat when it's narratively convenient, for no clear reason — but that's beside the point in a book that's more about telling stories than explaining why they work. This time around, there's less intellectual musing on religion, and more fable-ish wonder, as the cat hangs around a wandering storyteller, his aging lion friend, and the poisonous snake who dogs their travels, hoping to someday give them a peaceful death. Eventually, that story gives way to a lengthy, picaresque business involving a Russian Jew who escapes the revolution by stowing away in a box of precious books, and winds up indirectly involving the cat's rabbi master in a lengthy search for an African Jerusalem. It's all heady, crazy, barbarous stuff, full of surprises (including a deeply weird run-in with Tintin and Snowy) and unpredictable adventure…

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      • #4


        Le Chat du Rabbin : La Bar-Mitsva de Joann Sfar



        Le Chat du Rabbin : La bar-mitsva de Joann Sfar

        Edition en arabe

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        • #5

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          • #6

            April 11, 2008 -- This could be the golden age of French comics, with top-quality writing and drawing merging in the work of several authors, including Marjane Satrapi ("Persepolis"), Lewis Trondheim ("Dungeon") and David B (the autobiographical "L'Ascension du haut mal"); some 4,000 titles are now published every year.

            The leader in the current wave is Joann Sfar, author of "The Rabbi's Cat," whimsical, humorous tales set in 1930s Algeria. The series has sold 700,000 copies in France alone since it was first published in 2003 and is translated into 15 languages. The fourth and fifth volumes were published in English last week, bringing the series up to date.

            The main protagonists are a rotund rabbi, his sultry daughter and a cat who talks (he eats a parrot and then insists that he wants to study the Kabbalah and have a bar mitzvah). The cat's thoughts offer a wry and at times skeptical running commentary on events as they unfold. Mr. Sfar finds his roots in Soutine's vivid colors and Chagall's magical whimsy, the Italian directors Ettore Scola and Dino Risi's comedies tinged with tears, and the wit and fantasy of the Yiddish writers Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Babel. His drawing style is squiggly lines and hatchings, with lots of funny details you notice on second reading.

            Mr. Sfar is now working on an animated film of the series, with a budget of about €15 million and release slated for 2010.

            Born in Nice, the loquacious, ukulele-playing 36-year-old studied philosophy while enrolled at art school there. He moved to Paris in 1993. Success came young, at 24, with "The Little Vampire," which hit the New York Times best-seller list its first week and was made into a series of short films.

            He has been writing and drawing prolifically since for both mainstream and underground publishers. So far, he has published some 150 books with eight publishers and has worked collaboratively, including on the Donjon heroic fantasy series with Lewis Trondheim (also translated into English).

            We spoke in Paris last month at his production company, Autochenille.....

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            • #7
              continued.....

              I saw a picture of you with a cat that looked very much like the Rabbi's cat. Was that him?

              It certainly was. Imhotep. He's an Oriental cat from Thailand, gray with long ears, thin and with a very strong personality. He behaves like a dog, and he's clearly frustrated that he can't speak. As an illustrator, I obviously wanted to make him talk.

              You have Sephardic roots on one side, which you evoke in "The Rabbi's Cat," and Ashkenazi roots on the other, which go into your Klezmer series set in Odessa. Tell me more.

              My father's family came from Algeria, and on my mother's side they were Ukrainian, and the meeting of these two branches has produced most of the stories I tell. They're very different traditions. On my father's side, they were religious Jews. On my mother's, many were killed during the Second World War, and they tend to be more ironic and to hold religion at a distance. I had a very traditional upbringing, Hebrew lessons two mornings a week, but at the same time I was encouraged not to take it too seriously.

              Your mother died when you were 3½; has that got anything to do with why you draw so compulsively?

              The act of drawing undeniably creates presences; it's a way of talking to people. I was an only child, and until I was five they told me that my mother had left on a journey. It was a way of not giving me a voice, and maybe at the time I felt like the family's animal, the cat. I sat at the table with the grown-ups, but no one told me the truth. "The Rabbi's Cat" may well evoke something of that.

              How do you start on a story?

              They invent themselves as I go along. It's a little like a philosophy dissertation: You know the theme and you have to stick to it, and there are dialectic links that bring the story to its logical conclusion. I don't plan ahead, but I wonder a lot about the characters and what's going to happen to them.

              "The Rabbi's Cat" also has a political dimension. I invite the reader into a Jewish home. Everyone in France has something to say about the Jews. Everybody has had a Jew in their classroom, but hasn't necessarily gone to eat at his home on the Shabbat. In Arab families in particular, people have been quick to forget how close Jews and Arabs once were in North Africa. When I speak in schools, the Jewish and Muslim children don't know that their ancestors lived side by side. Instead, they talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The Rabbi's Cat" uses humor and a sense of the absurd to encourage reconciliation.

              Are the books received differently in America?

              In New York, particularly when I speak to non-Jewish audiences, I've been told "what a clever idea it was to make Jews live in an Arab country." I realized that many Americans don't know that not only did Jews live in the Arab world, but that they were already there in Roman times, long before Algeria became Islamic. I'm not religious, my wife isn't Jewish and I haven't given my children a religious education, but I have a lot of tenderness for my religion, and I like to talk about it.

              Is there a key to your style?

              The French comic-strip artist Fred, who is one of my mentors, told me, "It's not hard to surprise the reader with something you've spent six months working on and which he takes 20 minutes to read. It's harder to surprise yourself." How do I do that? I don't take the first idea that comes along. Instead, I deliberately imagine something else. I also choose not always to be funny; someone will die, for instance, so it's never quite clear if this is comedy or tragedy. That's why I like the cinema of the Coen brothers: You never know whether or not you're going to laugh.

              To which comic-strip tradition do you feel closest?

              The Americans, people like Will Eisner [a pioneer of the graphic novel, who created The Spirit] and Jack Kirby [who helped create The Hulk and Captain America, among others], even Charles Schulz [who created Peanuts]. I recognize myself in them. I met Eisner in Paris a little before he died. He is a very important figure. He was the man who made comic strips enter the world of good writing. In France and Belgium after the war, comic strips were aimed at the children's market, whereas in the United States they very quickly became adventure stories about cities and violence, even the superhero strips.

              You started drawing as a child. When did you turn professional?

              I started sending projects to publishers when I was 15. I'd send them things every month, and I'd never get a reply. When I was finally published at 24, it felt like I'd been at it for 10 years. I was lucky to start out simultaneously doing underground work with L'Association [an alternative comic-strip publishing house] and for mainstream publishers like Dargaud and Delcourt. I did things for both audiences from the start, although the distinction is arbitrary. Basically, I want to appeal to people who don't necessarily read a lot of comic strips, but who know about the cinema, books and art.

              What do you start with when you're working on a strip?

              First I write the text to see how much room it will fill; then I draw and scan it [into a computer], where the colors are done by a colorist. I wanted "Klezmer" to be more jazzy, so I did it myself in watercolor to give it that unfinished air. "The Rabbi's Cat" was more contemplative and had to have a cleaner look.

              Did L'Association teach you to do collaborative work?

              For many years, 10 to 15 of us used to share studios, and I liked to work with my close friends there, like [Lewis] Trondheim, Christophe Blain and Emmanuel Guibert, with whom I did "Sardine in Outer Space," which sells better in the U.S. [where it's a hit with young girls] than in France. Collaborations are fun because they allow one to change style and universe. L'Association was originally a salon des refusés for all the new authors who couldn't get their work published. It's thanks to them that all the big publishing houses now have literary comic-strip labels.

              So now is a heyday for French comic strips?

              It's a fantastic period, the first time French authors have exported so much, particularly to the U.S. France is the country with the second-highest manga sales, and comic books from the U.S. do very well, people like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. The dynamism is incredible. There are a couple of schools that teach bande dessinée, including Saint-Luc in Brussels, but I tell young people to study fine arts, not comic strips. It's such a small milieu, and they'll belong to it soon enough. They're better off encountering other art forms first, other people.

              What are you doing at present?

              Usually, I'd be working on three or four strips at the same time, but now I'm concentrating on one strip and an animation film of "The Rabbi's Cat." It's a big production, with a budget twice that of Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis." There'll be 100 people working on it for three years, and I'll be leading the animation team, as well as scripting and directing.

              What did you think of the Muhammad cartoon debacle in Denmark?

              When France's weekly Charlie-Hebdo published the cartoons in 2006, they were taken to court and the editor commissioned me to record the trial. [In France, you can't film or take pictures during a trial.] I did a book, "Greffier," about the debates and testimonies. Blasphemy is not a crime in France; we can make fun of God if we want to, and I think that's healthy. In other parts of the world, many Muslim writers and journalists are putting their lives at risk by protesting against Islamic extremism, and they look to us Europeans to be free and courageous on these subjects.

              Your next project is a live-action film about a singer, the late Serge Gainsbourg. You're not intimidated at the idea of directing a feature film?

              Not at all. I'm a little scared but very excited. It's a colossal project I've been working on for two years, and shooting starts in September. It'll be a little like "La Môme" about Edith Piaf, but my universe - a tale at once Russian, Jewish and romantic. France has many excellent film technicians, and I've got a great team. It's not entirely new to me. I've made two video clips, and I did a TV series of "The Small Vampire." Besides, there's plenty of drawing to do; I've done a storyboard and lots of watercolors. As for "The Rabbi's Cat," of course he'll continue. I'll pick up the characters again when I feel like it and try to bring them back to life as vividly as ever.

              Comment


              • #8

                May 15, 2008 -- The Rabbi’s Cat 2 (Pantheon Books) by Joann Sfar is an ambling, lighthearted sequel, which continues the stories of some early 20th century Algerian Jews — an almost forgotten pocket of the Diaspora — who, with their hookahs and Sephardic traditions, lived alongside the Arab population in an uneasy, delicate balance.

                At the start of Book 2, our feline narrator can no longer communicate with his owners. (Due to the delicious murder of a talkative parrot, he magically gained the power of human speech, but lost it after invoking the name of God.) Even so, his conversation with both lion and snake unfold wistful, romantic fables of a nomadic adventurer nearing his end. Later, the titular rabbi, his wise sheik cousin and witty cat follow a Russian painter on a quest for the Jerusalem of Ethiopia. Between philosophical discussions on art, faith, morality, and religion, they find an angry Islamic tribe, romance and even Tintin (who’s kind of a prick).

                Already a sensation in France, Sfar has written over a hundred novels (!) and even won the prestigious Angeloume Jury prize at just 32 (Bastard!), but it’s this snarky-but-ethical feline that’s moved him to that Classy Foreigner/Crossover territory, which Persepolis briefly ruled. The novel’s sophisticated, fanciful wit will appeal to the literati, but some comic readers might grow weary of its 6-panel grid and meandering (though enjoyable) plot. No experimentations with form here. No tricks, cliffhangers, big reveals, or major complications. Ironically, high art of this type has a playful simplicity about it, and that’s good. Completely accessible. A children’s book designed for adults that shows depth, debate, discrimination, death, desire, and boobies. And though the emotional, pious rabbi is as adorable as a drunk grandfather, it’s his clever, caustic, needy pet that will curl onto your mental lap and make you to love him.

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                • #9
                  ok this is totally off the subject about this book-but does anyone watch the apprentice? i dont but i had to watch an episode when i found out they were going to morroco- and how funny was it when the jewish guy who claimed to be a 'good jewish boy' didn't know what kosher meat is? LOL we couldn't stop laughing

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                  • #10
                    Vidéo ajoutée par linvite

                    TV5MONDE : L'INVITE

                    Joann Sfar : "Le chat du rabbin se bat contre les guerres de religion"



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