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Le Chat du Rabbin - Joann Sfar
‘The children are all very loving. They succeed in everything they do, they bring me great satisfaction.’

‘Baruch HaShem!’

‘Bless you.’


Ah, I love me a classic Jewish gag like that. Le Chat du Rabbin is a clever and very charming BD about Algiers's Jewish community in the 1930s, narrated by the titular feline, who early on in the book eats a parrot and gains the ability to talk. He immediately demands a bar-mitzvah – but as you'd perhaps expect from a cat, he turns out to be a skeptic at heart:

So we start at the beginning, and my master teaches me that the world was created by God five thousand seven hundred years ago or so.

I ask him if he's making fun of me. He says no, it's the truth.

I tell him that's ridiculous, and that with carbon-14 it can be scientifically proven that the world has existed for billions of years.


Obviously quoting the words without the artwork is a bit pointless, because half of the fun here is in the characterisation: the adorable, dumpy rabbi, his beautiful daughter Zlabya, not to mention the cat himself (who appears to be a sphynx breed? I don't really know about cats). The lettering is handwritten script and the frames are colourful, cosy, lamplit and never less than aesthetically appealing.

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The author (a guy, in case the name confused you) is one of the rising stars of French comics – precociously talented, he directed the excellent film adaptation of his own Gainsbourg graphic biography back in 2010.

For the artwork of Le Chat du Rabbin, he's said he drew inspiration from a long tradition of Algerian art. Myself, I couldn't help noticing a distinct resemblance between Zlabya and Henri Matisse's Femme algérienne, which is hanging in the Pompidou Centre:

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I knew literally nothing about Algeria's Jewish community, so for me this whole thing was a window on a slice of life and history that seems to have received very little attention.

The characters are so appealing and so charming that you hardly notice you are being taken on a crash-course through religious exposition, intercommunal relations, the meaning of life, dealing with death…it is all handled very deftly but there's considerable depth under the surface.

In summary: better than Garfield.

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