Klezmer Book One: Tales of the Wild East by Joann Sfar 5/5 stars(amazon)

Growing up in a mainly Jewish household in the midwest, I had a dim awareness of klezmer. I knew that it was the music people played when you did the chair thing at celebrationsweddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, and I guessed that klezmer was the cause of Jews really liking the clarinet. Klezmer tells the story of a group of musicians who all come together after suffering through circumstances that are sometimes strange, sometimes tragic. Sfar’s vivid watercolors shift dominant colors depending on the emotions of the characters. Vengefull feelings turn everything a vivid red. Singing in the forest paints the sky yellow. Sullen peasants are shadowed in purple and grey.

We’re introduced to Noah Davidoovich aka “The Baron of My Backside.” After surviving a tragedy that decimates his band, he starts to travel with a mischievous singer named Chava. Meanwhile two ex-yeshiva students named Yaacov and Vincenzo meet the gypsy Tshokola and start to teach him Jewish songs and stories. Music provides a way for these wandering people to survive in a brutal world. What will happen as they all start to travel towards Odessa and their paths converge?

Klezmer features great lines like “Jewish songs are easy, they’re all in B flat.” My only problem with the book was that closed with a “to be continued” ending, and I wanted to see what happened next! The book also includes notes and sketches from the author. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

A review copy of Klezmer was provided by the publisher.