cover image Klezmer Book One: Tales of the Wild East

Klezmer Book One: Tales of the Wild East

Joann Sfar, . . First Second, $16.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-1-59643-198-0

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.)