The Bookshelf: Habibi by Craig Thompson


Reading Habibi, the latest graphic novel by Craig Thompson, author of the critically acclaimed Blankets, is the perfect example of why I am so happy to have begun reading this particular medium.  If Habibi had been published five years ago, I would have never known of its existence… and I am richer for having experienced such an incredible work of art.

Habibi (which means, “my beloved” in Arabic) is the story of Dodola, a young girl sold into marriage at nine, and Zam, the child of a slave who is taken under the wing of Dodola at the age of three.  The narrative itself takes place in what can only be called a fairytale version of the Middle East… where at once it feels both ancient and modern… surreal… unstuck in time… unstuck in any particular place.  From the desert, to a village inundated with pollution and environmental catastrophe, to the Sultan’s palace, Habibi inhabits all of these places, yet the true story occurs within the lives of Dodola and Zam.

Together they live in an abandoned ship in the middle of the desert for nine years.  He finds the water… she finds the food… and by finding food, I mean, she prostitutes herself in exchange for food.  This is not easy subject matter… and it is meant to infuriate and make you uncomfortable… yet, the art itself is so incredibly gorgeous and visually arresting you are drawn into each page as though some truth of humanity will come pouring off the page at any moment.

Intertwining throughout, are stories from the Koran, the Bible, explanations of Arabic script, numerology and its significance in terms of the Koran and ultimately, stories from Tales of Arabian Nights.  This is a true hodge-podge of ideas melded into one lengthy and, at times, very confusing story… yet in the end, and upon a second reading, one of the more rewarding stories I have had the honor to read.

This is the review that stopped me in my tracks a month and a half ago… I so desperately wanted to share my love of this novel with my readers that I found myself short of words… short of any ability to convey the beauty and simple loveliness of this book… wanting so dearly to earn the right to even discuss this story… that I couldn’t conceive of enough words to relate how I felt after reading this and began doubting my ability to even get a single idea across.  No more!  I write this remarkably unworthy and trite review with the understanding that my review does not have to equal the mastery of what I am reviewing.

Habibi is an amazing work of art.  A work of scholarship… a work of great literature… a work of fine art… a work of beautiful humanity… and if you are hindered by the graphic novel form, you will lose out on a great experience.  I can not recommend this novel more highly…

That is all…
Cornelius J. Blahg

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