Sunday, October 12, 2014

Whoosh! Graphic Novel with Agnon Stories

One of the great things about being a librarian is that I often hit the trifecta.  Not at the racetrack, but in terms of my reading material.  This month's win: From Foe to Friend and Other Stories,a graphic novel by Shay Charka using three stories by S.Y. Agnon. Yes, a graphic novel, with stories from an Israeli author, published by Koren and the Toby Press.

Shmuel Yosef (known as "Shai") Agnon was born in 1888 in what is now the Ukraine and home schooled.  He arrived in Palestine in 1908, and wrote several stories that were published.  He later moved to Germany, where is met his wife.  They moved to the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem in 1929. He was awarded the Bialik Prize for literature twice (1934 and 1950) and the Israel Prize for literature twice (1954 and 1958). In 1966, Agnon was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature "for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people."  His work reflected the communities in which he lived, and he based many of his stories and his use of language on the Torah and on rabbinic sources.

From Foe to Friend is somewhat autobiographical, with a man enjoying the (then) sparsely populated area of Talpiot and trying to build a place to live.  The wind is his foe, who blows down his structures, until a solid house is built and the wind cannot knock it down.  The wind befriends with the man, and when he visits, "he brings with him a pleasant smell from the mountains and valleys" and behaves nicely.

The graphic novel format is perfect for portraying the wind as a character with a huge personality, and the details of the illustration are amazing:

Depiction of Agnon's house in Talpiot
The house as it looks today

The Fable of the Goat takes place in a shtetl.  When the doctor advises an old man to drink goats' milk, he buys a goat and brings her home.  But soon the goat disappears.  She comes back several days later, and her milk tastes incredible. The man instructs his son to find out where the goat went...and so ensues the tale.  Again, wonderful use of the format to depict the son's journey and the emotions of the son and his father. 

In the final story, The Architect and the Emperor, the architect is commissioned to build a magnificent new palace.  The architect paints a picture instead... and so ensues the tale!  This one reminded me a little of Borges -- exploring another culture with a little bit of magic mixed in.

Real cat of Israel:

Happy reading!

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