Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Klezmer! Tales of the Wild East

Klezmer: Tales of the Wild EastGun wielding Chassidim & a gypsy on the lam, a pair of cast-out yeshiva boy thieves, and a young woman running from village life all learning Yiddish songs that wouldn't be written for another 50 years from an ex-Polish army band musician. Klezmer!

Folks it just doesn't get better than this.

I know this old news for some (Ari wrote about this years ago), but I just ran across "Klezmer! Tales of the Wild East" by Joaan Sfar. Sfar, a French Sefardi (one side) and Ashkenazi (on the other) Jewish comics artist, writer, and film director, has written a number of wonderful Jewish themed graphic novels including "Klezmer," "The Rabbi's Cat," and "The Rabbi's Cat 2" along with almost 100 other comic books and graphic novels. The are all wild romps that are filled with a wicked sense of humor and a rich appreciation for humanity.

As Ari notes in his Klezmershack review "Sfar's post-modern klezmer musicians are weirdly real, despite the fact that it is clear that this is not a novel to be consulted for historical accuracy. In fact, there were times when I could see and read echoes of other graphic novels of the last ten or twenty years. But reading Sfar, I get a sense less of ignorance, than of re-imagining. Which, given the klezmer revival and the "post-vernacular" popularity of klezmer all over the place, is entirely appropriate."

I think that "re-imaging" is right. Klezmer's vision of the Pale of Settlement draws adventure out of uncertainty and opportunity out of brutality. In a world where your village may be destroyed tomorrow by pogrom and you may be drafted into the army or married off, why not take up violin or clarinet and hit the road? Klezmer is as historically accurate as a Western movie, e.g. not very, and just as mythic. The life of the Eastern European Jew was not high adventure, but an adventure can illustrate the precariousness of Eastern European life.

And the book is intensely musical. Few pages go by where Sfar's characters aren't practicing a tune, fishing a clarinet from burned wagon, or jumping up on a tavern stage. Makes me want to sing along and jump up on stage with them. I wish I could.

By the way, this book is just part 1. According to Sfar's Wikipedia page, he's already published parts 2 and 3 in France. Hopefully they'll get translated and and a US publisher soon. Rabbi's Cat 2 is currently in print, and also wonderful. Rabbi's Cat is out of print, but easily available.

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