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Book Review < Back

Fagin the Jew

Credits: Written and Illustrated by Will Eisner
Publisher: Doubleday


There's a subgenre in Literature where authors take the most interesting character from a famous novel and give them a novel of their own to explore the aspects of their characters and histories that the original novels did not have room for. Thus Jean Rhys took Mr. Rochester's first wife from Jane Eyre and explored her history in Wide Sargasso Sea to examine how she became the Madwoman in the Attic. Robert Nye dipped into Shakespeare's Henry IV to give the cowardly jester knight Falstaff his due in Falstaff. Gregory MacGuire explored the relationship of the witches from The Wizard of Oz in his politically-charged revisionist fantasy Wicked. These books were serious novels in their own right, using the aforementioned characters to explore social and emotional ideas previously buried or neglected in their original source novels.

And now Will Eisner does the same thing with FAGIN THE JEW. This is Fagin from Dickens' Oliver Twist, the wily fence who looked after and trained street urchins to commit acts of petty theft on the unsuspecting upper classes. Eisner opens the story with Fagin in jail on the night before his hanging, requesting an audience with Charles Dickens in order to recount his life story in the hopes that the author might write of his plight so that the world might understand him and the circumstances that brought him to his tragic fate. He tells Dickens about his upbringing and the loss of his love due to his religion, how he was reduced to living as a lowly criminal, leading to his role in the story of Oliver Twist. Eisner has meticulously reread Dickens' novel and researched Victorian history to create a commentary on anti-Semitism in the mid-19th Century while staying faithful to Dickens' original story. Using the graphic storytelling skills honed over a lifetime of innovative work, Eisner evokes the dirt and muck of Victorian London, and invests Fagin with the melancholy and heartbreak hinted at in the original novel, even introducing a new revelation in Fagin's relationship with Oliver Twist's family, making him a genuinely tragic figure.

-- Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a screenwriter and filmmaker who writes comics when he has the time. He has recently completed JLA: The Age of Wonder for DC Comics, and written and directed Open House, a short film for Studio FP in Italy. His current projects include the forthcoming Blackshirt for Moonstone Books, Anna Passenger, a novel being serialised on Opi8.com, and various film and television projects.


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