The Prop­er­ty

Rutu Modan; Jes­si­ca Cohen, trans.

  • Review
October 23, 2013

In the epi­graph to Israeli car­toon­ist Rutu Modan’s The Prop­er­ty, she quotes her late moth­er: With fam­i­ly, you don’t have to tell the whole truth and it’s not con­sid­ered lying.” Although The Prop­er­ty is a fic­tion­al work, this graph­ic nov­el cap­tures the aches and pangs of famil­ial attach­ment in a way that con­sis­tent­ly feels inti­mate and per­son­al. We fol­low a young Israeli woman, Mica, as she accom­pa­nies her grand­moth­er on a trip to Poland. But this is not a typ­i­cal roots trip, and Mica’s grand­mother, Regi­na, is inter­est­ed in more than recov­er­ing her family’s elu­sive prop­er­ty, left behind with the out­break of World War II.

Drawn in an expres­sive but toned-down and metic­u­lous style, Modan offers glimpses into her char­ac­ters’ lives through care­ful, spare details: a down­cast look, raised eye­brows, a sin­gle strand of pearl-white tears. Through the jux­ta­po­si­tion of Regina’s past and present expe­ri­ences along­side her granddaughter’s bud­ding love affair with a Jew­ish War­saw” tour guide, we wit­ness how his­tor­i­cal events man­i­fest across gen­er­a­tions and over time. In one poignant set of images, for instance, as Regi­na glimpses the streets in War­saw from the back­seat of a cab, the back­ground shifts from a vibrat­ing and col­or­ful present to the black-and-white scenes con­tained in her mem­o­ries and trig­gered by the famil­iar city of her child­hood. Indeed, one of Modan’s great­est strengths, in The Prop­er­ty as in her pre­vi­ous graph­ic nov­el, Exit Wounds, is her abil­i­ty to imbibe the places and spaces that she depicts with the same inten­si­ty and par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of mood and tem­pera­ment as her characters.

How­ev­er many secrets the mem­bers of this fam­i­ly har­bor as they go about their sep­a­rate jour­neys, ulti­mate­ly they are still stub­born­ly and lov­ing­ly drawn to one anoth­er as the past con­tin­u­al­ly trans­forms them all in an arrest­ing present. With­out roman­ti­ciz­ing or over-sim­pli­­fy­ing, The Prop­er­ty is a book that exam­ines the emo­tion­al com­plex­i­ties that shape attach­ments and the ways we per­sist in con­nect­ing despite the many silences and absences that sep­a­rate us from one another.

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