Book Review: Rabbi’s Cat 2: The Heeb Review

Sfar, Joann. The Rabbi’s Cat 2. Pantheon, 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, moralit, 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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