Sunday, October 22, 2006

Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East

I just finished reading this graphic novel by Joann Sfar, I loved it!
Through expressive pen lines and emotive watercolor washes, Klezmer tells the interweaving stories of five wandering characters who eventually meet in Odessa and form a Klezmer band in order to survive. (I think it's around the early 20th Cent.) The novel opens with Noah (nicknamed "The Baron of My Backside") witnessing and narrowly escaping the killing of his band mates by another Klezmer band. After getting his revenge he is accompanied by the wily Chava, who wishes to escape her provincial village.
We meet Yaacov a wide-eyed fifteen year old prodigy and Vincenzo an Italian violinist-both former Yeshiva students exiled for theft. Yaacov and Vincenzo inadvertently save the life of the gypsy Toshokola, (they happened to be sitting in the tree Cossacks tried to hang him from.) and he convinces the two into forming a band performing Jewish songs for, " Jews are constantly getting married, circumcised, engaged. There's some money to be made."
There is a lot of incorporation of Yiddish songs, Jewish and Russian folklore and text from novelist Isaac Babel. (A Jewish author who was murdered during the "Great Purge" in 1940's Russia.) The story is bizarre, incredibly whimsical and at times very funny. One of my favorite lines is from Toshokola who, when asked why Cossacks were chasing him, begins to tell a fantastic tale. When caught in his bluff he quickly replies, " Telling things exactly the way they happened is so ugly it ought to be forbidden. I'm telling you a story, it's the most basic courtesy." When Yaacov clumsily tries out the violin, he insults Vincenzo who is an expert violinist. Vincenzo quickly snatches the instrument from the boy's hands and dramatically states, " In my family everyone's a violinist. Even the maid. Even the dead." A wonderful read, highly reccomended.


Goupil said...

Oh you've discovered Sfar! I haven't read that particular book, but I'm a fam of his simple drawings. He started a whole line of followers.

If I had money I would buy the whole of the "Donjon" series, hilarious stuff and very wierd, sort of psychedelic and a bit deranged at times!

Next time you visit we need to go in a graphic novels shop!

Bonnie said...

Yes I love his drawings and his use of color in the book. Very cool. And the characters are well written. The only other thing I have seen from him is "The Rabbi's Cat" It did very well over here. I will have to look up "Donjon"

And there will defiantly be a next time!!!!!

Alisa said...

don't cry, but Joann Sfar is talking/signing next week at B&N in the west 20s.

Bonnie said...

I just spent 20 min trying to see if he was coming to Boston but I haven't found anything about it. He was here last fall on a "Rabbi's Cat" tour.

Well for now I will have to settle for the NPR interview: