This book is comprised of three interlocking vignettes about a Jewish family in Algeria in the 1930s. The first vignette is about the cat gaining the ability to speak (by killing and eating the family parrot) and his subsequent attempt to convert to Judaism. In the second, the rabbi receives a letter from the French Government that informs him he needs to pass a government test in French (which he reads very poorly) in order to be the official rabbi of his area. In the third vignette, the rabbi’s daughter falls in love with a French rabbi and brings her father (and the cat) on her honeymoon to France. The Rabbi’s Cat is narrated by the irreligious and mischievous cat, giving the reader a unique perspective on the lives and religion of the characters.
This work of magical realism explores the difficulty of being Jewish in a French colony populated largely by Muslims, examining the internal conflicts inherent in having conflicting national and religious identities. Joann Sfar’s vibrantly colored line drawings perfectly complement the tone of The Rabbi’s Cat– it’s a book where seemingly mundane occurrences and simple utterances are charged with deeper meaning.