by Craig Thompson

Wow. This is a graphic novel that really earns both of those words: it’s definitely a novel, and it’s definitely graphic (in every sense of the word.) It is most definitely not a comic book.

I’d noticed this book in passing for a while now, because it’s beautifully bound and the illustrations are gorgeous. Just, it’s a really beautiful book. It also has an obvious theme of exploring religion, which is something I often enjoy. On the other hand, it was struck me as trying really hard to be high literature by means of showing a life fraught with hardship, pain and suffering, and yet perseverance through it all.

Then I found myself waiting for a couple of hours in a library for which I didn’t have a library card. So I settled down to read this. And sure enough, I was absolutely right.

It shows a grim world filled with caricatures of characters who still have a bit of individuality to bring them to life and make them interesting. It’s really obviously trying very hard, and yet it largely succeeds in being that story about strength of will and perseverance and the times when there are no good options and so you just carry on. The characters are heartbreaking.

It makes me think of the story of Scheherazade, the narrator of the 1,001 Arabian Nights, and think of what her life must have really been like. After all, she was literally telling stories to preserve her life. (The main character also retells some of Scheherazade’s stories.)

It also reminds me of Caravan by Dorothy Gilman, a book I enjoyed a great deal but was possibly the first book I read in which it was clear that neither the main character nor the love interest were going to be protected by their status as the main characters of the book.

Bad things happen. A lot. And are, with one notable exception, shown rather explicitly.

It is not my particular kind of book, for all that it is just really, really beautifully drawn and bound. After reading half of it while waiting at the library, I got up and walked away when my class started. But when I saw it again at my local library, I thought, you know, let’s carry on. So I checked it out and read the rest.

It joins the ranks of books that I’m impressed with, proud that I’ve read, but feel no particular urge to re-read or own.

3 comments on “Habibi

  1. Nancy says:

    The illustrations in this graphic novel are so lush and detailed, and the pictures transport you into another time and place. But Dodola’s story is endless sexual abuse with not a single good man in her life, except for the boy Zam. What started as a beautifully drawn story turned into an slog through filth- which I suppose was the author’s purpose to highlight how many people (esp women) are abused and degraded daily.

    • Rebecca says:

      You’re not wrong. It was beautifully drawn but with a lot of gratuitous sexual violence and abuse. I really wish so many authors didn’t think that awfulness was the way to be “realistic.” Good things do happen in reality, too — that is realistic. I also wasn’t really happy with out the relationship with Zam worked out. The Oedipal issues kind of squicked me.

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