Monday, May 27, 2013

Rutu Modan's The Property

The Property by Rutu Modan
Drawn & Quarterly, 2013
The Property is the first full-length graphic novel by the Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan since Exit Wounds, her 2007 debut that made her a bestselling critical darling. She released one short story collection and had a serial in the New York Times in 2008, but aside from a Toon Books comic for young readers, she hasn't released anything since. The Property is thus a highly anticipated test if whether or not Modan, who started cartooning in earnest in her 40s, is a one-hit wonder or a rising star.

Like Exit Wounds, The Property isn't spectacular, but it is quite good. It is simply the straightforward story of one Israeli-American family's possible inheritance of a property in Poland long thought lost. Under Polish law, land taken from Jews during the Second World War remains the property of those individuals or their descendants regardless of the amount of time that has passed. Mica and her grandmother Regina, a colorful and realistic elderly expatriate Polish Jew, travel to Warsaw to reclaim land apparently taken away from their family decades ago, land that could be worth a fortune. But Regina has alternate motives for visiting Warsaw, reasons that involve a secret from her past and a recent loss coming back to haunt her now. And in her one week in Warsaw, while unraveling the mysteries of her family's past and rebuffing the machinations of a scheming relative, Micah falls for a local, a tour guide slash cartoonist very interested in Micah's family story.

Both Exit Wounds and The Property deal with the legacy of loss that can be so specific to the Jewish experience, Exit Wounds in the nearly daily exposure to terrorism in Israel, The Property in the quickly disappearing generation of survivors' losses from the Holocaust. Both deal with the societal expectations Jews have for each other. And both deal with the universality that familial secrets play in all of our lives. Modan's accessible ligne claire art and the simplicity of the story make this a light, easy read. This has art-house trappings to snag the NPR crowd, but rest assured this is the opposite of the intellectual or aesthetic challenge the packaging suggests. This is no game-changer, Modan no master, but it is still a quality, interesting read. I don't mean to damn this with faint praise, but this is alright, a nice, light summer read. If you've got twenty-five bucks and an hour to kill, go for it. There's worse you can do, but there's far better, too.

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