Habibi by Craig Thompson is a story that feels both epic and personal at the same time. Taking place in a sprawling, third world desert, it is a modern tale that feels timeless. The story centers around Dodola, a child slave who rescues a baby boy she calls Zam, whom she tries to mother after they escape into the desert. Circumstances pull them apart and they follow wildly different paths until they ultimate reconcile as adults, where their sibling-like love transforms into something else. Habibi not only tells the story of Dodola and Zam, it also retells stories from Quran and compares the parables to tales from the bible. It’s an interesting new direction from an author who’s previous autobiographic work ‘Blankets’ revealed his strict Christian upbringing.
Habibi is a very ambitious and beautifully illustrated book with pages that beg to be lingered over. The story is engrossing and heartbreaking, with moments that are honestly shocking. There are times about halfway through the book where the storytelling seems to meander, but by the last third of the story, you’ll be hooked all over again. All in all, for a book who’s page count can seem intimidating, I found it to be a fast read.
I will warn that Habibi possesses a vast variety of uncomfortable scenarios, so if the ‘two pantless little boys peeing on each other’ scene in Blankets put you off, you’re definitely not going to enjoy Habibi’s multiple scenes of underage prostitution and drawings of the female reproductive system. The main character loses her virginity to a much older man around the age of seven or eight and her liaisons with older men (which sometimes culminate into rape) compromise much of the plot of the book. The book also features and a scene of castration, eunuchs, and other possibly offensive material. I don’t blame you if that subject matter turns you off of the book. Sometimes it’s one thing to read something, but quite another to see it illustrated.
But if you can handle the subject matter, it’s a great read with stunning art that shouldn’t be missed.