From Publishers Weekly
In TheRabbi's Cat
, Sfar showed a knack for slightly tweaked and jokey mystical fables, a talent he updates with a harsher edge in this first volume of a new series about a band of itinerant Klezmer musicians. While Cat
reflected its drowsy, lugubrious North African setting, this tale is darker, edged with a tragic, Eastern European jocularity, a mix of the fantastic and cruel. In Sfar's expressive art, bright splotches of color overflow his wildly looping drawing. In the violent opening, Noah (nicknamed "The Baron of My Backside") narrowly escapes the massacre of his bandmates by rival musicians. Later in the book, after extracting some revenge, he puts a new band together with the misfits who roam through the intervening pages. They include a pair of former yeshiva students exiled for theft; the baron's voluptuous love interest, Chava; and Tshokola, a less than truthful gypsy on the run from Cossacks. Much of the book has the feel of a goofy, somewhat twisted vaudeville routine, with Sfar's characters meeting under bad circumstances and making light of it via some bad jokes. Deeply suffused with Jewish religious and ethnic identity, the book is profane, messy, jagged and wildly enthusiastic, much like klezmer itself. (Sept.)
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Sfar used his father's Algerian Jewish heritage for The Rabbi's Cat
(2005) and now turns to his mother's Eastern European Jewish roots for a tale he plans to spin out a bit. Early last century, 10 former military-band mates constitute an itinerant band that plays for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and so forth, until they reach a town where the local talent slays them--literally. Only the leader survives and bests the killers so decisively that after he hits the road again, a village maiden joins him. Meanwhile, an expelled yeshiva pupil finds the band's instruments, not all damaged, and takes the clarinet and the banjo. Haphazardly strumming away, he meets a hypersensitive young fiddler, then a burly young gypsy guitarist. Duo and trio collide, a new band forms in the nick of time, and more will happen in book 2. For this delightful picaresque, Sfar loosens his already loose style; his line gets squigglier; the coloration, simpler and lighter. As well befits the material, Chagall, the great painter of shtetl life, haunts every panel. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved