Rutu Modan, The Property (2013)

Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica are together away from their Israeli home on a trip to Poland to investigate a property that belonged to Regina’s family and was confiscated during WW2.

Mica has recently lost her father, Regina’s son. It is Mica’s first trip to Poland, and she doesn’t know what to expect there. Her grandmother is cantankerous and quite moody, and at times it seems to Mica as if this whole journey has been in vain.

Grandmother and granddaughter barely understand each other, they don’t speak about the father, don’t even mention their grief. Yet it is soon obvious that there are some family secrets lying around in the past, and probably still lurking in the streets of Warsaw.

Rutu Modan’s art is deceptively simple (comparable to Tintin’s style) and people are drawn rather flatly (not very flattering), but nothing in the book is as simple as it seems. Feelings are subtly evoked, characters are richly layered and never black-and-white. People may be blunt, and sometimes misunderstand each other because they don’t speak the same languages (Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish are rendered through different typographies), but most of the times the silences tell a lot more than the words. There are no good people, no poor Jewish victims and bad Poles or the other way round. The grandmother is at times deeply moving, at times unbearable.

I knew Rutu Modan from her NYT blog, and I knew she was able to convey rich feelings in very simple portraits, but I’d never imagined that a graphic novel would be able to go that deep. If you want a “serious comic book”, I warmly recommend it.

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2 thoughts on “Rutu Modan, The Property (2013)

  1. I think we too quickly underestimate the graphic novel. In the better examples of this medium things are often far more layered and far more emotionally moving than is ever the case in novels that are text alone. This is an author of whom I haven’t heard but I shall certainly be looking out for a copy of this work.

  2. I thought this book was terrific. Rutu Modan does indeed not draw her characters very flatteringly, but I end up liking that about her — I said in my review of this that her characters look like they are composed of human bodies (not just lines). It’s an interesting style. And yeah, I thought this book was just lovely. Well worth the long wait between her last one, Exit Wounds, and this.

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