Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rutu Modan's The Property (2013), translated by Jessica Cohen

“I know why you came to Warsaw, Regina.  You came to tell me that our son is dead.” 

This statement, made by an old man to a locked hotel door, is one of the most poignant moments from Rutu Modan’s stunning graphic novel, The Property.  I’ll tell you the significance of this statement later, but first I need to give you a sense of the tremendous scope and intimacy of this novel.  It concerns a grandmother and her granddaughter traveling to Warsaw, ostensibly to go on a “survivor’s tour”—not only to see the infamous concentration camps, but also to revisit old towns and neighborhoods which were once thriving Jewish centers.  Secretly, however, the grandmother (Regina) plans to visit a man from her past, a Polish lover with whom she had a son before fleeing to Palestine in the dawn of WWII.  This man, interestingly, now lives in the apartment once occupied by her parents, possibly under dubious circumstances.  Her granddaugher, Mica, knows nothing of all this, though assumes the purpose of the trip is partially to recover her property (a lawyer wrote the family a letter about it in the 90’s, but the grandmother refused to investigate—until now).