In The Rabbi'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.)
Review in 6/23 Kirkus 2006 Graphic Novel Spotlight
Joann Sfar made some waves in the U.S. publishing world last year with a release of The Rabbi's Cat, the story of an Algerian-Jewish family with a cat that decides he'd like to be Jewish as well. Loosely drawn and energetic, The Rabbi's Cat is both sentimental and sharp in its observations of a lost Jewish world. "His whole work is infused with both Talmudic learning and with his background in classical philosophy—but it's often hilarious and always brimming with humanity," says Mark Siegel, Sfar's editor at First Second Books. "Perhaps that's what I appreciate most in his work. He has a big, big heart." While The Rabbi's Cat was based loosely on stories told on Sfar's father's side of the family, Klezmer draws on stories from the Ashkenazi Jews on his mother's side. "She died when Joann was very young," says Siegel. "That grief haunts many of his books." Klezmer tells of the birth of the bewitching Eastern European Jewish music after which the book is named. Four Jewish refugees fleeing pograms, arranged marriages and yeshiva educations—plus one gypsy fleeing everything—meet in Odessa (Ukraine) and become musicians as much through force of will as through natural talent. The first in a series, Klezmer promises to "evolve in remarkable ways," says Siegel. "[Sfar's] books aren't slick and polished, they're fresh, alive and have an immediacy that's very engaging for a reader," says Siegel. "I'm intent on offering lots more of Joann Sfar's world in our coming seasons."
Review in 9/1/2006 issue of Booklist
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 two. 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.
Review in 9/1/06 Entertainment Weekly
How much trouble can a Jewish folk band get into? A lot, if they happen to live in pre-WWII Eastern Europe. In fact, by page 8 of this graphic novel, all but one of said act have been murdered. What ensues in this exquisitely watercolored tone by French writer-artist Joann Sfar is — as all great works of art should be — a mix of Fiddler on the Roof and The Magnificent Seven.