four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
user_rating: 
0

A-HabibiCraig Thompson's award-winning autobiography Blankets is recognized as one of the great graphic novels of the last decade. In Habibi, the artist sets his sights on the Middle East with an expansive, epic story of despair and love.

The Story: When the Arab girl Dodola is sold into marriage by her poor family, her journey with a much older, literate husband sets in motion events that would break most people: kidnap, forced prostitution, torture, imprisonment, and run-ins with unsavory characters too numerous to mention. Before her husband is murdered, Dodola learns to read and write, skills that will ensure her survival. Along the way, she adopts young Zam, a slave destined to be separated from his savior and who will gladly give his life to be reunited with her. An adventure story, a modern update of One Thousand and One Nights, and an extravagantly illustrated graphic novel, the sweeping Habibi explores religion, violence, fear, enslavement--and, finally, the many facets of love.
Pantheon. 672 pages. $35. ISBN: 9780375424144

boingboing 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Habibi is an enormous and genre-busting graphic novel that blends Islamic mysticism, slave/liberation narratives and post-apocalyptic science fiction, creating a story that is erotic, grotesque, and profoundly moving. ... Habibi is told in a dreamlike, non-linear, dense style, with asides for swirling Islamic legends, the theory and practice of magic squares, the hidden meanings in Arabic calligraphy, jumping from time to time and place to place, giving the book a deep, mythic resonance." Cory Doctorow

Independent (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Thompson dazzles us with his pen strokes, with his mastery of storytelling, his research, plotting and characterisation. The book is destined to become an instant classic, confirming the author's position among not only the most masterful of graphic novelists but our finest contemporary writers, regardless of medium." Inbali Iserles

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Thompson will inevitably be accused of engaging in what the late Palestinian cultural critic Edward Said defined as ‘Orientalism,' a Western fascination with Eastern ideas that only scratches its exotic surface. There may be something to that charge, but for this reader, Habibi is never anything less than a breathtaking visual and intellectual experience." Tony Norman

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Habibi pulls no punches. ... All the heartbreak of manga, only grown up--these people are victims coming into wisdom." Laurel Maury

Guardian (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Habibi, which the eye perceives as a celebration of life force, settles in the mind as a campaign of punishment. Gaze upon its beauty and despair." Michel Faber

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It's a tribute to Thompson's skill as a cartoonist that the transition from an old-fashioned Orient to modern Babylon leaves few visual seams. But it's hard to take seriously a fantasy world where there don't seem to be any rules." Robyn Creswell

Critical Summary

A supremely talented artist and storyteller, Craig Thompson fights what Michel Faber astutely calls the "odd prejudice in the world of serious comics against lavish displays of skill." Habibi is, without doubt, one of the most visually stunning and remarkably ambitious graphic novels in recent memory, conjuring comparisons to genre giants Will Eisner and Joe Sacco, among others. One of the few criticisms leveled at the book is that--thematically, at least--it takes on too many sacred cows. Personal journeys are one thing, but thorough explorations of complex religious issues--particularly those dealing with the opposition of Christianity and Islam--may be beyond the scope of graphic novels to handle effectively. The quality of the artwork and Habibi's poignant portrayal of the undying relationship between Dodola and Zam, though, ensures Thompson's place on the short list of graphic novelists whose work will influence the genre in subsequent generations.