Today I want to highlight a beautiful graphic novel, Habibi by Craig Thompson. I read this a little over two years ago and I’m only just writing about it now, because I desperately want to read it again. It utterly consumed me when I first read it with its beauty, spirituality and utterly gorgeous art. Take a look:
Habibi takes place in a mythical Middle East, and features two characters who have clung to each other like family: Dodola and Zam. When she was nine years old, Dodola was sold as a wife to a wealthy man. On the other hand, the little boy Zam is a slave, and Dodola and Zam manage to escape slavery together. Dodola adopts Zam as her son, and the two, despite the fact that they are just a few years apart, live as mother and son, and eventually, like a brother and sister. However, throughout their story, which unfolds both when they are together and when they are constantly separated, their dynamic changes, and may blossom into romantic love.
Dodola is a strong soul and despite being an eternal victim of rape and abuse, comes out so much stronger than her oppressors. She is a lover of the written word and of stories, and she teaches Zam to read and infuses in him a strong sense of spirituality. Many of the myths and storylines borrow from the Qur’an and the entire story is rooted deep in Islam. But this is, at its heart, a mythical, fictional tale about love, friendship, and small acts of kindness.
It’s also utterly heart-wrenching. These two people, peaceful, gentle and loving, cannot catch a break. When they are separated for years at a time, each fall into dire circumstances. Dodola is sold into a harem and bears a child by the sultan. Zam becomes a eunuch and feels ostracized from a society that considers him much, much lower in their caste system. Dodola and Zam have to find their way back to each other through a combination of love, faith and magic, and hopefully find a small corner of their hostile world to be happy.
If nothing else, read this book for the art, which will take your breath away. The detail is mind-blowing; and even though I’ve read the Arabic calligraphy is riddled with errors, read it for the feelings it inspires in you. This book is so emotive and achieves universality beyond culture, religion or nation. It’s about the human spirit and the human experience.
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