'Habibi' by Craig Thompson
"Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth — and frailty — of their connection.
At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling."
'Habibi' is a graphic novel by Craig Thompson that follows the lives of two child slaves. The book has strong Islamic religious themes with some hints of Christianity. As an atheist myself I wouldn't normally read this kind of book, but the cover caught my eye so I flicked through and completely fell in love with the artwork.
We first meet Dodola, a young white girl, aged nine who has just been married off to a scribe. Not a nice situation for any young girl, but the scribe does teach her to read and write. Before long, however, their home is raided and her husband killed. Dolola is then sold as a child slave where she meets Cham, a three year old black boy and forms a bond. Dodola manages to escape her captors and takes Cham with her, who she re-names Zam. She also refers to him as ‘Habibi’, which means 'Beloved' in Arabic. They find an old abandoned ship in the desert which they make their home. They spend six years together with Dodola selling herself into prostitution for food and Zam collecting water. During this time Dodola tells Zam lots of stories from the Qur'an including Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark and Moses amongst others. At first Dodola is a mother figure for Zam but as he grows older he begins to develop a lust for her.
Suddenly at ages 12 and 21 the two are separated and have to survive without each other. Dodola finds herself imprisoned in the Sultans palace where he challenges her to please him for 70 nights in a row. On the seventieth he gets bored but spares her life. He then sets her another challenge, she has seventy months to turn water into gold in exchange for her freedom. During this time she becomes pregnant with the Sultan's child and gives birth to a baby boy. But, still torn up about her separation from Zam she neglects the child, only to try and make up for it later, but she doesn't get the chance.
Meanwhile Zam is trying to make a life for himself in the nearby town, when he is taken in by a group of eunuchs and he makes some serious life choices that will affect his future. Zam eventually gets a position in the palace but will he and Dodola ever be reunited?
First things first, the artwork in the book was absolutely stunning! Each of the 600+ pages was so beautifully decorated and there was so much to look at that I went through after I'd finished it to look again. As well as the pictures depicting the story the backgrounds and borders were filled with Arabic letters and words and although I couldn't read them, they looked beautiful. It really added to the Islamic themes of the book too.
As I mentioned before, I am not religious and wouldn't normally read this type of book but I'm incredibly glad it did! The story of Dodola and Zam was so captivating and I really fell in love with these two young survivors.
The narrative of the book is quite mixed up and there are time-jumps and flashbacks. Quite often I find this kind of style difficult to follow, but this story was so beautifully written that it was so easy. The story is also interspersed with tales from the Qur'an and although I'm not religious I found them really interesting and they fitted in so perfectly with the story.
This was a truly wonderful book to read and I'm sure I'll be going back to it in the future time and time again. The book does contain adult themes and depictions of nudity so I wouldn't recommend it to younger readers, but most adults, religious or not, will be delighted by this wonderful graphic novel.
I would give this book 5 stars :)
Places to buy:
The Book Depository
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