The Property

Drawn and Quarterly  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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