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The Rabbi's Cat (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – August 16, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sfar, the French cartoonist behind the Little Vampire children's books, has come up with a hilarious and wildly original graphic novel for adults. The nameless, scraggly-looking alley cat who narrates the story belongs to an Algerian rabbi in the '30s. When the cat eats a parrot, he gains the power of speech and tries to convince his master to teach him the Torah, raising the question of whether the appropriate age for his bar mitzvah should be in human years or cat years. Of course, being a cat, he has plenty of impertinent opinions about Judaism. That's a delicious setup on its own, but it gets better when the cat loses his speech again halfway through, and the story becomes a broader, more bittersweet comedy about the rabbi's family and the intersection of Jewish, Arab and French culture. The rabbi's daughter Zlabya marries a young man from a nonobservant family in France. The Algerian family's visit with their Parisian in-laws is the subject of the final and funniest section of the book. Sfar's artwork looks as mangy and unkempt as the cat, with contorted figures and scribbly lines everywhere, but there's a poetic magic to it that perfectly captures this cat's-eye view of human culture and faith. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up–A slinky gray cat lives with a rabbi and his beautiful young daughter. One day, the feline eats their parrot, only to find that he has gained the birds ability to talk. Witty and highly intelligent, the cat immediately decides that he wants to learn more about Judaism, from the Kabbalah to the Torah. Thus begins this funny, sad, spiritual, and utterly delightful trio of tales. The stories tell much about Jewish life in the 1930s, both in the initial setting of Algeria and in Paris. They also impart Jewish teachings and philosophies in a highly entertaining way, bringing to mind Jostein Gaarders Sophies World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy (Berkley, 1996). Sfar is predominantly known in this country for his Little Vampire childrens series (S & S), and the drawings have the colorful, cartoon quality of those works while still fitting the sophistication of these. His palette is a gorgeous mix of earth tones that perfectly captures the North African setting. There is plenty for teens to like–humor, romance, and theological questioning combined with a folkloric quality to bring to life a multifaceted work. Sfar is highly praised in France; heres hoping more of his creations are translated.–Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Series: Pantheon Graphic Novels
  • Hardcover: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (August 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422812
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Rabbi's Cat is a wonderful book. I heard the author speak on NPR and got the book. The book is in the form of a comic strip, each box lovingly illustrated by the author. The pictures are wonderful, particularly of the cat. They are a joy to behold.

Even better are the stories, anecdotes taken from the lives of the Jews in North Africa in the thirties. The stories are both very sad and hysterically funny. The cat has a sardonic turn of phrase that had me in stitches. Through the difficult medium of comics, the author has managed to capture the atmosphere of the time and place. Much of the book is given to musings about life, philosophy, love, God and so on. If you like a good discussion, you'll enjoy this book.

Although the books can be enjoyed by non-Jews, I think if you don't know the basics of Judaism, you'll be missing the most vital part of the book. Of course, the book is so appropriate for the cat lover. The author clearly understands cats perfectly.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is great fun to read. The cat is a wonderful character, particularly when he is arguing theology and Talmud. I suspect if cats really could talk and argue theology, they'd act much like the one drawn in this book. In fact the book was inspired by the author's real cat (who doesn't speak, at least that I know of :-)) but apparently does understand how to keep his humans.

This book can be enjoyed on several levels - as a fable about a cat and his humans, as a series of theological and philosophical debates, or just as a fun story about a talking cat and his adventures with his master.

An important story element about midway through that the cat never figures out, but my wife did - it is an exchange, not a loss. This will make more sense after you've finished the book.

One does not have to be Jewish or a scholar to appreciate the story and humor, but we gave a copy to our Rabbi as a gift and he loved it too. A couple more gift copies are planned too. Is that a positive endorsement or what?

Parents of small children be warned - you might want to edit out the use of one bad word and some discussions of sexual topics.
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Format: Hardcover
This adult-themed graphics novel is set in 1930's Algeria, however most of the issues such as religion and race are still current and unsettled.

The Rabbi's Cat 2 is the second book featuring the Rabbi and his nameless cat that narrators, and not only talks to certain persons and most animals but is multilingual.

Initially I had mixed reactions to this my first graphic novel. However, after reading through the first story entitled "Heaven on Earth," a second time, I discovered its biting charm and cryptic humor. The cat, along with an old lion and a snake, have an ongoing conversation as they follow Malka, a cousin of the rabbis, around the desert. The animals'comments about the humans around them come out as little gems of wisdoms that remind you of Aesop's Fables.

Malka the wandering storyteller and his lion are getting old, and he longs to become a legend and a man of mystery so that people will forever search the desert for his grave. When Malka returns to town and the cat returns to his rabbi, the story shifts the action to the religious and cultural differences in Algiers.

"Africa's Jerusalem" was longer and a little difficult story to follow in places. The rabbi's daughter is unhappy with her husband, and a Russian painter is found as a stowaway in a box of books. All these events cause the entire town to become involved. With the help of the cat that can speak Russian, and another Russian living in Algiers, we learn that the painter is on a quest to find the black Jews and their city of Jerusalem in Africa. The expedition is launched with the painter, the Russian, the rabbi and his cat in an old truck. Much happens to this unlikely group on their pilgrimage â" some good, some not so good.
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Format: Hardcover
This book works on many different levels. I feel that the main theme of this work is summed up in one panel, when the rabbi says, "Blessed are thou, who allows us to transgress."

There is an underlying theme of bitterness in this book; the rabbi is widowed; the cat wants to become a bar-mitzvah, Paris has changed the rabbi's family, and the wonderful singer can only find work as a clown.

The main story is that of a cat narrating the events in the lives of his owners, a rabbi and his daughter. When the cat eats a parrot, he gains the power of speech, only to lose it when he wants to break one of the ten commandments.

There is a lot of religious details the author has provided, but for some reason he left out one rabbinic tradition, that of a wife cutting her hair when she marries.

Another theme is the role ignorance of Kabbalah and Talmud play in religious circles.

In summary, this book is a wonderful tale, but not meant for kids, due to some of the translated language.
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Format: Hardcover
I stumbled upon this book while browsing in the world of graphic novels, where I rarely venture. They usually give me headaches, but this one revealed a quirky style and a refreshing lack of onomatopoeia in starbursts. It's so much easier to tell a good story when you're not constantly being interrupted by POW!! and ZOK!!! and the like.

As a cat owner, I confess that it was the title that grabbed my attention, but I'm guessing that the plurality of cat lovers will not like the way the cat is drawn: Sfar's style sometimes reminds me a bit of Ralph Steadman's, and the cat's proportions change according to his mood and the context of the scene. Sfar focuses on intriguing details--a character might be drawn very sketchily in one scene, but some small object in the background will be meticulously rendered. In the next scene, the same character will fill the frame and be drawn with equal attention. This style works out perfectly for as mutable a creature as a cat.

Format and style aside, the story is what really made me buy this book. The prose works just as it should with the illustrations, an aspect that I think some graphic novelists overwork, or ignore. As a fan of Issac Bashevis Singer, I was sucked in when the rabbi's initial response to his talking cat was "Will he be a Jew?" And, more importantly, "Will he be a good Jew?" (Not being Jewish, by the way, has not been an obstacle to enjoying the work of either author.)

The book is divided into three separate stories, and while the first was my favorite, I also enjoyed following the cat and his rabbi as their family circle expanded to include an exotic friend with a lion (who gets along amiably with the cat) and a down-on-his-luck singer who has been reduced to belting out bawdy numbers on Sabbat.
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