Friday, July 25, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #206: The Property by Rutu Modan

All of life is about sex and money, to a first approximation.

Look, I don't seem to have a lot to say about Rutu Modan's 2013 graphic novel The Property, OK? It's a thoughtful and lovely story, about two women traveling from Israel to Poland, with real subtlety and emotion. Even the endpapers are precise and understated, quietly part of the story in a way that the reader only realizes on turning the last story page. It's entirely successful and lively, full of characters with their own agendas and ideas, all vividly drawn (both in writing and in Modan's thin crisp lines).

I reviewed Modan's last big graphic novel, Exit Wounds, a few years back, and thought that the story was excellent but that I didn't think her faces were expressive enough for the material. Either I'm more used to her subtleties or she's gotten even better since then, because the faces in The Property are deeply expressive -- indicative of character and of plot -- even though she's still drawing many of her people with dot eyes.

Those two women in The Property are Regina and Mica, grandmother and granddaughter, going to Warsaw for a week ostensibly a family property that Regina and her family had to leave behind at the outset of WWII. Of course, motivations are not that simple, as the reader might realize when the women meet Avram, a cantor who is also the fiancee of Mica's aunt (Regina's daughter), on their plane north. Avram claims to be traveling to exactly the same place at the same time by happenstance, but he has a lot of time free to spend with and near the two women. And Regina is less focused on the property than Mica expects.

But Mica meets a friendly young man: Tomasz, a freelance tour guide to the old Jewish quarter. And so she's got something more interesting to do than worry about why Regina is sneaking away from her -- she has a reason to sneak away as well (though she's more avoiding Avram and Regina).

The Property tells the story of this week carefully, and with a quiet power and deep understanding of all of the sides of life, young and old, happy and not so, regretful and happy. Modan will show us all of the answers before the book is over, but the reader will need to pay attention and be ready to make connections -- like real life, everything will not be explained in detail, but unlike real life, it will all come together and be meaningful in the end. This was one of the best graphic novels of last year; I'm sorry that it sat on my shelf for so long.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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