The A.V. Club | Noel Murray And Oliver Sava | May 17, 2013
The A.V. Club reviews The Property
In Rutu Modan’s Eisner-winning debut graphic novel, Exit Wounds, the Israeli cartoonist explored modern life in her homeland via the story of a cabbie and an ex-soldier who ride around Tel Aviv together, trying to find out whether the cabbie’s father has been killed in a suicide bombing. Modan’s second graphic novel, The Property (Drawn & Quarterly), is set in Warsaw, but it too is really about Israel, and how the lives of its citizens continue to be affected by catastrophic world events and fateful choices made long ago. The book follows a young TV producer named Mica as she accompanies her grandmother Regina to Poland, the country where Regina was born and raised before she fled to Israel as a young woman, escaping both the Nazis and a shameful secret. Mica’s been told that their visit is an errand, to reclaim an apartment building their family owned before the war. But Regina really means to find someone she lost when she left, and to hash out what really happened between them. Mica, meanwhile, is juggling the attentions of a handsome local tour guide and a nosy family friend, while working on her own to solve a mystery that her grandmother refuses to explain.
As with Exit Wounds, The Property is beautifully drawn, with soft, flat colors that explode brightly when the scene requires, and with Modan’s thin, clean line matching her clear-eyed depiction of her characters. Also as with Exit Wounds, Modan relies too often on melodramatic storytelling beats, throwing up artificial roadblocks via simple misunderstandings between the characters, to keep the plot churning. But The Property is about more than just its plot. It almost doubles as a travelogue, getting into the particulars of Poland’s historical-tourism industry, which draws Jews looking to reflect on and even relive aspects of the Holocaust. The title of the book refers not just to Regina’s apartment building, but the legacies that get passed down between generations—be they memories, heirlooms, or even attitudes toward other people and other countries. Modan adroitly captures the complexity of the Jewish relationship to Europe, where so many Jews built and lost families and fortunes. There’s a deep ache within The Property, as Modan’s characters think about what might’ve been, and decide to replace that sense of mourning with a sense of possibility. [NM]