(or the HU Bande Dessinée Roundtable Part 2)
I admit it. I bought this for the cat. I read this for the cat. And I don’t really care about much except the cat.
The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar
Color by Brigitte Findakly
Translated by Alexis Siegel and Anjali Singh
This is an odd little book. It’s sort of a parable style story about a talking animal who has adventures and learns things. In the spirit of the parable, perhaps, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Or maybe it’s just too French for me.
There’s this cat, drawn with wonderful inky spontaneity and rough enthusiasm, who eats a parrot and thus learns to talk. The cat happens to live with a rabbi and his daughter in Algeria. As soon as he learns to talk, the cat denies killing or eating the parrot, and thus begins the philosophical discussion of the purpose of having speech. Why have speech if all you do is lie? Or, as the cat does later, tell only those truths that cause pain?
Honestly, I didn’t care. I like philosophy just fine. I’ve read Aristotle and Aquinas and the Baghavad Gita and those lot, and I’m sure they would have been improved by the addition of a cranky and silver-shadowy-gray Oriental Shorthair with Views. And yet, to me, the cat was everything and the philosophy was nothing.
The funny and eccentric art kept me reading, for the most part, but I was sometimes bogged down by arguments and parables, much as the cat appeared to be. Sometimes he would weary of the talk and try to get back to his mistress to be petted or convince her to give him a fish, and I confess, I think he had the right approach.
The cat gains speech and loses it, follows the rabbi, learns of people and religion, laws and rules, different religions, reads, and hangs out with the rabbi’s cousin’s lion. I liked the lion. And the cousin, who liked to go around threatening anti-Semitic waiters with his rifle and his lion.
There’s a bit about a guy with plays what seems to be a banjo and another part that’s about shopping on forbidden days, but I just wanted to know if the cat would get his mistress to love him and care for him and feed him milk. I am a shallow creature, I suppose.
The art is delightful for the most part, and the story is strange and puzzling with those sharp turns fairy tales make, and I’m not sorry I read it. But it does feel very French. Or perhaps Italian, in the style of Calvino’s Italian Folktales. Which isn’t bad. At all. I’m sure.
It’s just that I don’t really feel like being enlightened. I want to sprawl around instead. Lazy as the cat. Who is portrayed as pretty wise in the book, so who knows.
Update by Noah: You can see the entire roundtable so far here.