The Big Kahn
Written by Neil Kleid, art by Nicolas Cinquegrani
NBM, 176 pages, $13.95.
Here’s the thing. I have a friend who fell in love several years ago with a wonderful, intelligent woman. His parents, however, refused to recognize their relationship and threatened to disown him if he married her. Why? Because she didn’t practice the same religion they did. Eventually they thankfully relented and embraced his now-wife, but it resulted in several years of ugly tension and discomfort for everyone involved, to put it mildly.
I have another friend who has two sisters who were both disowned by their father because, you guessed it, they married outside of the church. In the one case the sister married a Mormon. In the other, she just abandoned the church altogether. My friend has told me several times that her dad’s decision all but rendered her family asunder and caused scars that are still linger these many decades later.
So when one of the main characters in The Big Kahn, an up-and-coming young rabbi, has this huge guilt complex because in a moment of weakness he slept with a gentile girl, I’m not really feeling his pain. In fact, I want to punch him in the nose.
Because, you see, author Kleid makes it very clear that the character’s crime of fornicating outside of marriage is nowhere near as great as having casual sex with a shiksa, and that’s something I have a big ethical problem with.
The Big Kahn is ostensibly about a Jewish family who discovers, only a day after his death that their father, an upstanding rabbi and community leader, was not only Catholic, but had led a previous life as a con man.
That’s a pretty good hook for a story. I can imagine a number of ways a creator (or creators as the case may be) could examine the emotional repercussions such a revelation would have on a family like that. It would make for quite an engrossing, moving read.
Unfortunately, Kleid and Cinquegrani don’t really seem all that interested in making that sort of book. Instead, they have produced a tedious comic where every answer is a foregone conclusion, especially when the question is “Can religion solve all our problems?” Keep in mind: I’m not necessarily objecting to Kleid’s desire to cast spirituality and specifically Judaism in a positive light. Far from it. No, what I’m criticizing is his setting up of straw man arguments, his apparent refusal to really grapple with the questions he raises and his seeming inability to examine what the real honest consequences of the father’s actions would be and how a real family would react.
I didn’t believe a single thing in this book. Not the plot, not the characters, not their dialogue and certainly not their behavior. Ask yourself: Would the con man’s brother really interrupt the funeral to announce in front of the entire assembly that their beloved rabbi was actually Catholic? Wouldn’t he confront the family before or even after the service? Would the rebellious sister who’s always shunned her religion really use this an excuse to rediscover it? Wouldn’t it drive her further away? Wouldn’t the youngest son act out in worse and more damaging ways than the occasional game of three-card monte behind the back school steps?
But perhaps my negative reaction to this book merely stems from dislike towards the goody-good eldest son and his guilt over not being “spiritually pure” any more. You see, I’ve seen and heard what the desire to be “spiritually pure” has done to families, and quite frankly, I want none of it. My sympathies lie elsewhere.