Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Book Review: The Rabbi's Cat

The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar****

The Rabbi's Cat is a sometimes humorous, sometimes profound graphic novel about an unworldly rabbi, his daughter Zlabya and her cat in early 20th century Algeria, as told by the cat. The cat gains the ability to speak by swallowing the family parrot, an act that he, of course, immediately denies. The conversations between the cat, the rabbi, and the "rabbi's rabbi" are some of the funniest parts of the book, but along with such questions as whether the cat should be considered Jewish or whether his age (for bar mitzvah purposes) should be calculated in human or "cat" years, is some serious and wide-ranging philosophical and theological discussion. What is a Jew? What does it mean to be created "in God's image"? What is the difference between the cat's feeling for his mistress and the love of God?

Eventually the cat pronounces the sacred name of God and loses his ability to speak, and from this point the book concentrates more on the relationships between human beings, although still from the cat's perspective. He experiences the pangs of jealousy when a young rabbi from an assimilated French family comes to their town and falls in love with his young mistress. He and his master then travel with the young couple to Paris to meet the groom's family, and must adjust to a very different kind of Jewish life before they return home to Algeria. On their journey they encounter several delightful minor characters, from the rabbi’s cousin Malkah of the Lions (and his pet lion) to a cabaret singer in Paris.

The Rabbi’s Cat can be read on several different levels - as an entertaining “talking animal” story, an affectionate portrait of Sephardic Jewish culture, or a complicated story of human (and animal-human) relationships. Caution to parents: This book contains brief nudity and some mature language and themes.

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