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The Property Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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TV producer Mica Segal accompanies her grandmother, Regina, on the old lady’s first return to Warsaw since she fled, pregnant by a gentile with Mica’s late father, to Palestine in 1939. On the plane, the son of a friend of Regina’s ebulliently accosts the women and thereafter seems to show up wherever they go, even separately. Mica shakes him by dodging into a café, where she meets a charming Pole who leads Jewish history tours. Not by chance, Regina comes on her own to the same café to meet an old man who lives in the building—yes, Mica’s grandfather. While the purpose of the trip is to assert Regina’s title to a building her parents had owned, what develops is an intrafamilial tiff, an ultimately fulfilling reunion, and the possible start of a romance. Modan’s dialogue is smart and nuanced to match a drawing style awfully reminiscent of Hergé’s Tintin and up to the most complimentary comparison with it. Nicely varied panel size and earth-tone coloration further distinguish this gratifying work of comics realism. --Ray Olson
“Modan is masterful at creating complex motivations, exploring the confusion her characters create in each other and, more fundamentally, in themselves.” ―Los Angeles Times
“My comic book of the year, by a mile, is Rutu Modan's The Property... in which Mica Segal, a young Israeli woman, travels to Warsaw with her irascible grandmother to help her reclaim the apartment building she and her family were forced to give up in 1940...This, believe me, has everything you could possibly want in a comic: great pictures, a multilayered story, mystery, sharp wit.” ―The Guardian's Graphic Books of the Year
“What The Property most resembles is an excellent independent film, full of nuanced performances and funny lines... Modan's artwork is lovely and understated; it's the cleverness of her storytelling that shines brightest here.” ―Salon.com's Unforgettable Graphic Novels of 2013
“Modan's clear line art delineates the complex web of loves, lies, and invented pasts. This beautifully realized narrative shows how history shapes us but cannot destroy us.” ―Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013
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"The Property" is a story about a young woman who is accompanying her aged grandmother back to Warsaw from Israel in an attempt to straighten out some legal rights to a building the older woman may - or may not - own. The property, owned by her parents, who perished in the Holocaust, is never quite defined til the end of the book. Was it a mansion or a factory, or even, possibly, the current Warsaw Hilton! Legal title is up-for-grabs among various people; some family members, some Christian Poles who had been living in her parent's apartment since the war. Mica, the granddaughter, seems at loose-ends in her own life in Israel after her father's death. The father was the son of the grand-mother, Regina.
I don't think I'm being dramatic when I write that for Polish Jews who fled the country during the war and afterward, returning to Poland - even for a visit as Regina and Mica are doing - can be quite emotional. What went on during the war, with Polish Christians often turning on their Jewish neighbors, has been thoroughly written about and I'm sure not getting into it in this review.
The book begins with Regina and Mica traveling on an ElAl flight from Tel Aviv to Warsaw. Also on the plane are teenagers who are going to Warsaw to see the city and the various concentration camps in a group organised in Israel. The teens are in typically high spirits as they start their trip; certainly on the return flight they are much quieter and pensive. A middle-aged cantor is also flying with them and he begins to intrude on the grandmother and granddaughter. There's a connection between the three of them which will be explained later. But if the cantor's business is somewhat murky, Regina's reasons for returning to Warsaw 70 years after leaving it as a young, unwed, pregnant woman sent off to Palestine to have her baby, are equally jumbled.
After arriving in Warsaw, Regina's reasons for making the trip seem to change. A visit to a restaurant on the second floor of a building is disquieting and Regina wants to go home without making claim to whatever her parents have left her. Mica, fearing for her grandmother and her health - and possibly her sanity! - meets a young Polish Catholic artist. He helps her discover her grandmother's secrets, which in turn, affect her own life and future.
This is a wonderful novel about how the tragedies of war can be sometimes be changed by revisiting the past. Because sometimes the past can explain the present, and the truth can provide a bit of comfort of those trapped in the past.
Modan's quite a good artist and the book is excellent.