(In the style of reviews on HTMLGIANT):
- Habibi is a 672 page graphic novel. That in itself makes it an incredible achievement. Not only that, it also got on the New York Times Bestseller list.
- The graphic novel medium usually fails to break outside the limits of its usual fans, the exceptions being critically acclaimed masterpieces like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
- Based on this information, I expected Habibi to become one of my new favorite graphic novels. I was disappointed when it was not.
- Disclaiming what I said above, Habibi is a love story, and a good one, too.
- Two escaped child slaves, a twelve-year old girl and a three-year old boy live together on an abandoned boat in the late-1900s Middle East. (The country is unspecified, but my best guess would be Iran.)
- Nine years later, the girl, Dodola, is taken back into slavery, leaving the boy, Zam, to fend for himself in the desert.
- Eventually, the two are reunited, and all the love they shared is rekindled, but they have changed so much since their separation. Their love faces new obstacles and stressors they never imagined.
- Outside of the main story of Dodola and Zam, Habibi attempts to cover a variety of topics, including the roots of Christianity and Islam, and how the separation of the two can be compared to the separation between Arabic and Western culture.
- A nod is even given to the evils of the bottled water industry, and the monopolization of dams and waterways.
- The author’s favorite topic seems to be the differences of sexualization between that of women in traditional Arabic culture and that of women in the modern-day Middle East.
- A nine-year old girl is sold into marriage within the first few pages of the book. This theme of forced companionship and sex continues throughout the rest of the story. At first, I was only slightly uncomfortable with the amount of sexual exploitation and assault involved, assuming it had to be incredibly important to the story and the point the author was attempting to get across.
- Craig Thompson is a white man in his early thirties who grew up in rural Wisconsin and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. I began questioning the credibility of each scene of sexual violence more and more.
- Even though Thompson obviously did a great amount of research on Arabic culture, language, and development, what sort of research could he have done to support his theory that young Arabic girls were traditionally exploited for sex later in their life?
- Additionally, the rape scenes (which Thompson also illustrated) were incredibly graphic and too numerous for my comfort zone. Although I do not doubt that many women were taken advantage of at the time, as they were in Western societies as well, the vast amount of sex takes over the rest of the story and subplots.
- Dodola appears naked more often than she does clothed in all 672 pages, and she is a main character. This seems incredibly dehumanizing to me; Thompson focuses more on the amount of sex Dodola is having at one period of her life rather than her emotional growth.
- Whatever Thompson’s motives on making his book so full of sexual violence, it definitely ended up distracting from the rest of his story. That being said, there are many good things about this book as well, including beautiful, detailed illustrations, the use of the Arabic language as a way of creating imagery as well as linguistic messages, and the careful examination of Orientalism and its harmful effects on how Westerners act in the Middle East.
- In any case, I would recommend this book to anyone, no matter how busy they are. Habibi might be 672 pages long, but the visuals are definitely well done. It’s not my favorite book, but it has many aspects that are too evocative to go unshared. If anything, do it for its expression of Arabic culture and the love story between Dodola and Zam.