Rutu Modan is an Israeli-born artist living with her family in London and "The Property" is her second full-length graphic novel. Her first was the wonderfully drawn and written book, "Exit Wounds". Curiously, "The Property" is the second graphic novel I've read and reviewed this week. The other one was "Letting It Go" by Miriam Katin. Both Katin and Modan's books are about Jewish women taking trips of discovery to the European countries that either they or a family member fled before or after WW2. Both books are about how the past can be integrated into the present, and maybe even, the future.
"The Property" is a story about a young woman who is accompanying her aged grandmother back to Warsaw from Israel in an attempt to straighten out some legal rights to a building the older woman may - or may not - own. The property, owned by her parents, who perished in the Holocaust, is never quite defined til the end of the book. Was it a mansion or a factory, or even, possibly, the current Warsaw Hilton! Legal title is up-for-grabs among various people; some family members, some Christian Poles who had been living in her parent's apartment since the war. Mica, the granddaughter, seems at loose-ends in her own life in Israel after her father's death. The father was the son of the grand-mother, Regina.
I don't think I'm being dramatic when I write that for Polish Jews who fled the country during the war and afterward, returning to Poland - even for a visit as Regina and Mica are doing - can be quite emotional. What went on during the war, with Polish Christians often turning on their Jewish neighbors, has been thoroughly written about and I'm sure not getting into it in this review.
The book begins with Regina and Mica traveling on an ElAl flight from Tel Aviv to Warsaw. Also on the plane are teenagers who are going to Warsaw to see the city and the various concentration camps in a group organised in Israel. The teens are in typically high spirits as they start their trip; certainly on the return flight they are much quieter and pensive. A middle-aged cantor is also flying with them and he begins to intrude on the grandmother and granddaughter. There's a connection between the three of them which will be explained later. But if the cantor's business is somewhat murky, Regina's reasons for returning to Warsaw 70 years after leaving it as a young, unwed, pregnant woman sent off to Palestine to have her baby, are equally jumbled.
After arriving in Warsaw, Regina's reasons for making the trip seem to change. A visit to a restaurant on the second floor of a building is disquieting and Regina wants to go home without making claim to whatever her parents have left her. Mica, fearing for her grandmother and her health - and possibly her sanity! - meets a young Polish Catholic artist. He helps her discover her grandmother's secrets, which in turn, affect her own life and future.
This is a wonderful novel about how the tragedies of war can be sometimes be changed by revisiting the past. Because sometimes the past can explain the present, and the truth can provide a bit of comfort of those trapped in the past.
Modan's quite a good artist and the book is excellent.