Marta's Reviews > Habibi

Habibi by Craig Thompson
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's review
Jun 01, 2012

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bookshelves: graphic-novels, fiction
Read in June, 2012

I had a really difficult time rating this book, and I still don't entirely know how I feel about it. In terms of the artwork alone, the book deserves the full five stars; Thompson is obviously a talented artist and has the artistic flexibility to include everything from botanical drawings to elaborate patterns to well-rendered human figures seamlessly into this graphic novel. Sometimes less is more with graphic novels, but I think Habibi has become such a strong and memorable book because of the sheer artistry in almost every page. Even though I just finished the book, I will probably flip through it again just to admire the artistry that went into this book.

In terms of the story, I enjoyed how the various plots and subplots were woven together through two-thirds of the book, and I thought that Habibi for the most part beautifully shows the unique, loving relationship between two orphans who meet and take care of each other under extremely difficult circumstances. However, Habibi loses steam when the story's different threads come together. I enjoyed the last twenty pages of the book, but I would say that the last 200ish pages feel contrived, difficult to believe, and rushed, as did a few of the subplots in the book. (view spoiler) Maybe Thompson couldn't extend parts of the plot much further, seeing as the book is colossal already and took him several years to put together. I didn't mind the length of the book and I don't necessary think it needs to be shorter, but I think there were some parts that could have been more concise to make room for the development of some of the subplots as well as the conclusion.

Social issues are heavily discussed throughout the book, so I am still sorting out some of my feelings surrounding the execution. As an environmental nerd, I enjoyed how environmentalism was woven into the book. Thompson did a great job showing the environment's role in religion, poverty, capitalism, etc. However, I am still trying to figure out how I feel about the depiction of race in the book. It seems like Thompson, who himself is white, was trying to mindfully discuss the dynamics of race in a fictitious multiracial society. I don't know how intentional this was, but it appeared that Thompson relied on a lot of race-based stereotypes to develop characters (such as the hyper-maternal black woman, the misogynistic Middle Eastern man, etc.) and there were not very many characters in the book who in some way subverted existing frameworks surrounding race. I think this irked me so much because Thompson clearly applied a white American lens to his analysis of race and applied it to a fictitious society that would probably not think about race the same way that many Americans do. While the discussion of race in Habibi sometimes moved the story forward, it often perpetuated racial stereotypes that are present in white American society, which weakened the story and the ways it may resonate with others.

That said, I was happy to see that Thompson had clearly done his research about everything from hijras to the numerology present in Islam. I'm not an expert in many of the topics covered in the book, so I can't claim to know how accurate many of the ideas in this book are, but it at least appears that Thompson spent his time not only making every page beautiful but also reading up on a variety of topics (especially the intricacies of Islam) to put together a cohesive and compelling book.

I'm still waffling about my rating for this book, but I think I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could.

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Julia I read a review of this book that was similarly ambivalent: "Now that the tome is here and I’ve had a chance to read it I feel no less nauseous or enthusiastic about the work that Thompson has produced. To be clear, Habibi is a success on many levels, but it also contains elements that are strikingly problematic through the lens of Orientalism."

(It's a good review, you can read it here:

The cultural critique made me wince, but the example pages are flippin' gorgeous. I definitely want to read it at some point.

Julia Also also, as long as we're talking about Orientalism in comics and Arabian Nights re-tellings by white Western authors, have you read the chapter of the Neil Gaiman's Sandman that takes place in a fairy-tale version of Baghdad? I read similar critiques of that, I can't remember where, but it's an interesting comparison.

Marta That review pretty much encapsulates all of my feelings about the book. Thanks for passing that along! Even though it'll make you cringe a lot, Habibi is still worth reading. It's over 700 pages long but you can read it over the course of a day. (Though definitely take time to just enjoy the details and artistry in almost every page!)

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