July 21, 2024
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Graphic Novel Adds New Vibrancy and Sense of Personalities to a Well-Known Story

Reviewing: “The Koren Tanakh Graphic Novel—Esther,” The Magerman Edition, By Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Yael Nathan. Koren Publishers, Jerusalem Ltd, 2023. English/Hebrew. Hardcover. 178 pages. ISBN-10: 9657767792. ISBN-13:
978-9657767795

It’s no small challenge to prepare a book review for a story that, guaranteed, every reader of this newspaper has already read closely (and many have read dozens of times), and of which all readers are quite familiar with the characters, the story line, the plot twists and the satisfying ending.

Yet when the subject of the review is “The Koren Tanakh Graphic Novel—Esther,” newly published by Koren Publishers and featuring exquisite artwork that adds welcome texture to a familiar story, the challenge is easily overcome.

This new rendition of the familiar story we revisit each spring is the work of creator and writer, and creator of The Jewish Link’s own @JewishCartoon, Jordan B. Gorfinkel (editor of the well acclaimed “Graphic Novel Haggadah”), artist Yael Nathan, and translator Jessica Sacks. The book is designed with the Hebrew text of the Megillah on the left pages and English translation intermingled with the cartoon-style drawings of the story on the right pages, which allows readers to instantly visualize the story as it unfolds.

The Hebrew text is rendered in a large font, with no more than a few verses per page, which allows the illustrations to provide more scenes, or a scene on a larger scale, to represent different aspects of the story. I found that this made the book a much more comfortable read, as I could skim the Hebrew quickly then glance over at the visual telling of the tale.

One of the benefits of the graphic novel version of the Megillah is that it allows the creator to “fill in” hypothetical characters or aspects of scenes to which the Megillah only alludes. For instance, Esther gains a young confidant in the palace who learns and keeps secret her dietary preferences; this ally also serves as the conduit for Mordechai to convey information about Bigsan and Teresh’s plot to the queen, who shares it with Ahashveiros.

The graphic novel’s artwork also adds depth to the first encounter of the ling with Esther, with illustrations that show him enthralled with her charm and show her demonstrating a gracefulness and concern for his needs that wins his heart.

One aspect of the graphic novel that drew my attention as I perused the pages was clear evidence that the team that produced the book were conversant with some of the midrashic interpretations of the story and adopted some, while discarding others. Thus, we see Ahashveiros wearing the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate throughout much of the story, and in one of the scenes of the feasting, in the first chapter, we see the large Menorah from the Beit Hamikdash in the background—both allusions to the view that one of the grave offenses of the King was his public display and use of the holy vessels of the Temple. Further, the behavior of the King in the various illustrations throughout the book makes it clear that the creators of the “The Koren Tanakh Graphic Novel—Esther” knew of the “debate” in the Aggadah as to whether Ahashveiros was a buffoon who was manipulated by Haman or a schemer who used Haman for plausible deniability and they clearly chose: He was a buffoon.

At a few points, the book’s artwork make knowing references to events at other times in Jewish history, such as when the Megillah mentions that Haman is the son of Hamedata, the Agagite, and one of the illustrations is of the skirmish between Bnei Yisroel and Amalek, while Moshe is seen on a mountaintop with Yehoshua and Hur raising his hands. At another point, when the Megillah recounts the plot of Haman after it’s been foiled, it uses illustrations of a Nazi concentration camp and the Eternal Flame at Yad Vashem to convey the full implications of Haman’s plans.

“The Koren Tanakh Graphic Novel—Esther” adds a wealth of new views of the main characters and some unexpected new dimensions to a story I’d previously thought I’d mastered so well that it could no longer surprise me. I thoroughly enjoyed this new visual retelling of one of my favorite stories from Tanakh and I heartily recommend that others buy this book as well. It will add new energy to one of our mesorah’s vital stories and, I believe, it will enhance your appreciation of the hidden miracles the story conveys.

By Harry Glazer

 

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