Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Property by Rutu Modan

Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan's wonderful novel, The Property, was translated into English by Jessica Cohen and published this year by Drawn and Quarterly. Hooray! Modan's Exit Wounds is one of my very favourite graphic novels. Another of hers is the charming Maya Makes a Mess, published by Toon Books and intended for beginning readers -- but don't let that stop you from enjoying it at any age.

The Property is on the longlist for next year's prize at Angouleme, along with some others I've read: Are You My Mother? (Bechdel), Goliath (Gauld), Saga (Vaughn and Staples), and Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller (Lambert).

Regina Segal, an elderly Polish Jew, travels from Israel to modern Warsaw in order to reclaim family property that was lost in the second world war. The story opens at Ben Gurion airport. Regina is accompanied by her granddaughter Mica, who is mortified by her grandmother's behaviour at the security check. Regina insists on drinking an entire two-litre bottle of water rather than have it confiscated, meanwhile refusing to allow anyone else to go ahead of them in line.

Regina is stubborn and prickly, but I found her sympathetic. She has her own reasons for not having shared with her granddaughter the whole truth about her past. Old family secrets and complex modern relationships add layers to the plot. Modan has a great ear for dialogue and the humour inherent in the everyday. Her art is in the full-colour clear line style that is similar to Herge's Tintin. She is excellent at conveying facial and body expressions. The background indoor and exterior settings are highly detailed, so the city of Warsaw is vividly present. It is a heartwarming story with a hopeful conclusion. I loved it.

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