Rabbi David Kahn dies as a man who has achieved everything he wanted in his life: he has a happy family, a strong congregation, and the love and respect of his entire community. However, on the day of Rabbi Khan’s funeral, a great secret is revealed: David Kahn was really Donnie Dobbs, a petty criminal and conman who lied his way all the way to the top of his profession.
The Big Kahn shows the reaction of Kahn’s family to the news. Each family member takes the news very differently. His widow, Rachel, initially plunges into a deep depression. His daughter, Lea, initially becomes more rebellious. His younger son, Eli, begins acting out at school. And his oldest son, Avi, begins to doubt his faith and his place in the world.
Yet each character ends up reacting to the events in ways that could not be predicted at the beginning of the book. The transformations are slow and subtle and reflect deeply the characters’ complex inner lives and perceptions of themselves in the world.
The journey of Avi is really at the center of the book. He had been groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps as leader of his congregation, but the news of his father’s true identity has plunged Avi into a deep and complex depression–one that leads him to doubt everything that he once found important.
He asks the logical question of how his father’s lies reflect upon him. Would the father’s sins be laid at the feet of his innocent son? And how would Avi’s deep sense of self be shaken by these extremely momentous events? His journeys through doubt and shame are fascinating, and his story is given a thoughtful and interesting resolution.
However, all the characters change and grow in unexpected ways, as writer Neil Kleid deals with the family’s issues in thoughtful and surprising ways. I was deeply fascinated with the surprising turn that Lea’s life takes through the book.
This story moves in unexpected directions in a quiet and real-feeling way. This is not a sensationalistic story that might appear on a cable network; instead, Kleid allows the characters sufficient time and space to move in their own interesting directions.
The art by Nicolas Cinquegrani is appropriately quiet and thoughtful. He seems at home with this story–never striving to make events seem larger than they are. This is a quiet family drama, and Cinquegrani works hard to keep things quiet. Unfortunately, though, his characters are a bit stiff and lack some subtlety.
He tries to convey his characters’ thoughts and emotions through facial expressions and body language, but he doesn’t quite have the chops to present the level of artwork that this story demands. Nicolas Cinquegrani doesn’t do a terrible job with the artwork here, but there is a sense of the illustrations not quite matching the scripting.
Kleid has delivered a thoughtful graphic novel that presents a unique topic in a very interesting manner. I really found myself intrigued by the characters he’s created, and I was deeply fascinated by the reactions of Avi and Lea in particular. The story of “the Rabbi who was not a Jew” isn’t the story of the rabbi himself as much as it’s about his family, and I found myself very interested in the rabbi’s family.