Everitt's Reviews > Habibi

Habibi by Craig Thompson
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Feb 25, 12

bookshelves: american-literature, comics, magic-realism, fantasy
Read in February, 2012

Craig Thompson won two Eisner Awards for Blankets, his 2004 graphic novel of sexual awakening. When asked about his next project he said it would be about sexual abuse and water. He spent the next seven years working on Habibi. This is a story about possession, about value and about stories.

Habibi begins with a nine-year-old girl named Dodola being sold into marriage by her impoverished family. On her wedding night her husband consummates the marriage and is promptly murdered, and she is kidnapped, entering into a life of sexual slavery. She quickly meets a three-year-old slave boy named Cham whom she absconds with into the desert. They take refuge in an abandoned ship. She loves the boy and treats him as her brother, renaming him Zam, after he finds water when they are on the verge of death, to release them from their past.

The story takes some effort to understand at first. This is because Thompson invokes many different storytelling tools both written and visual. The narrative of Dodola and Zam is intercut with Islamic theology done in a surreal style. Reading Habibi can be disorienting, but that is part of the effect. The story is also about stories and words and writing. Like Scheherazade Dodola tells stories. She tells stories to Zam to calm him as a baby, and to lecherous sultan to save her life.

Habibi is a story that exists out of any specific time. There are modern amenities and medieval customs. It might be a modern story, but the story is more powerful for the lack of a specific time and place (it is set in a fictional town call Wanatolia).

There are beautiful and touching moments juxtaposed with very cruel and sadistic behavior. The novel is highly symbolic, drawing on parallels with stories from the Quran. The one weakness comes towards the end when Thompson includes a prayer, without any visual aids, as Zam is contemplating ending his life. The prayer reveals the meaning of the symbolism, revealing that Thompson does not trust his readers. It is ironic that in a story about searching for freedom that the author denies to the readers the freedom to see the story through their own eyes.

Dodola’s story is about a woman struggling to possess her own body and recover from a lifetime of sexual trauma: rapes, prostitution, slavery and molestation. Zam’s story is about a boy becoming a man and resisting the urge to possess the woman he loves. They value each other enough to trade parts of their bodies so that the other can live, an act which ends in a twist worthy of O. Henry or Poe. The two resolve their love for each other with the power of words and breath.

Truly, this was a beautiful story.

Recommend for: fans of graphic novels, people interested in magical realism, people skeptical about the art of the graphic novel
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Christopher Great review! This was one of my favorite reads-with-pictures. If anyone tries to say that graphic novels can't be as complex as traditional literature or are just for kids, I will just hold this book up and not say anything at all.


Christopher I also didn't mind the blacked-out prayer. It wasn't perfect, but I thought it was pretty effective at showing his intense grief. I definitely don't think it was Thompson being lazy, but I do agree that Thompson doesn't always trust his readers. I think I mentioned in my review of Blankets that Thompson's main flaw is that he explains too much when he should just allude.


Everitt Christopher wrote: "I also didn't mind the blacked-out prayer. It wasn't perfect, but I thought it was pretty effective at showing his intense grief. I definitely don't think it was Thompson being lazy, but I do agree..."

Thank you Christopher. I had not thought about the prayer that way. I don't really hold too much against him for that moment, but it just took me out of the story by realigning my interpretation of the symbolism.


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