I read Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Blankets earlier this year. It’s kind of hard to believe he went from that to Habibi. His previous work was a great story, equal parts lovely and sad. But Habibi is something on another level. It’s easy to say it is a work of genius. Covering themes of religion, struggle, misogyny, racism, environmentalism, waste, greed, literacy, and love, among other things, it tells a complex, compelling, and in-depth story full of beauty, heartbreak, and outrage. The characters are full and whole. The writing is beautiful. And of course, there is the artwork, which is just gorgeous.
Habibi tells the story of two characters, Dodola and Cham (Zam), and how their lives are intertwined. Dodola is a child bride that is stolen from her husband (at the age of twelve) and forced into slavery where she meets Cham, who is only three. Their journey begins with their daring escape and attempt at survival in the desert. They grow up in the sand before ultimately being separated by injustice and chance at the ages of twenty-one and twelve. The main plot of the novel details their struggles as they attempt to find their way back to each other as time continues on, including self-mutilation, prostitution, and physical and emotional imprisonment.
The novel takes place in a period of no time and simultaneously all time in a middle eastern world. While the beginning of the story seems like it could take place in year zero, in the darkest days of biblical times, the end implies the events are occurring and have been occurring in a world hauntingly like the present day. While Thompson explores themes of waste and suffering, a parallel biblical story comes through Dodola’s storytelling, enchanting readers with a biblical narrative that is directly related to the struggles and trials of the characters.
It’s a book that is equal parts lovely and grotesque. Thompson is an incredibly talented artist. There isn’t a single panel of the book that isn’t beautifully done, even as it depicts scenes that are utterly horrifying. As a woman, I found it a difficult book to read. Throughout there are scenes of rape, of being forced to use one’s body as the only means to sustain oneself. To say it’s sad is an understatement. It causes you to feel complete outrage on the part of the characters. But that is also one of the book’s charms. While the content is unsettling, you feel so deeply for the characters because of it.
I cannot recommend enough that you read this book. I was talking to a friend about the book and we agreed that while it would be difficult, this book should be taught in high school or something. It brings up so many outstanding points about the humanity and inhumanity of people and the troubles of our planet in such a poignant and understanding medium. It’s a book that is much bigger than its physical pages.
That’s all for now. Until next time!