I remember when I finished reading, “Blankets” for the first time. I was mesmerized by the writing and the illustration prowess of Craig Thompson. I had to procure a copy of, “Goodbye Chunky Rice”, which I loved a little more than “Blankets”. I had heard of, “Habibi” sometime ago and when I received a copy of it, I started and ended the book and still reeling from its effect.
Craig Thompson as an illustrator and a writer takes risks. Habibi is very different from the other graphic novels that I have read. It reads as a novel to begin with and the sketches are intricate and magnificent. One cannot begin to think what black and white drawings can do to the heart and the soul. To realize its potential, you have to read Habibi.
Set in timeless Middle East, the book fuses legend and myths with grim realities, following the lives of Dodola, an Arab girl sold into child marriage by her illiterate parents. Her husband is kind enough to teach her the script, how to read and how to write. She is kidnapped by dacoits, runs away from the slave market with an African child who she raises as her own for nine long years (names him Zam), living a sheltered life in the desert on an abandoned ship (it is beautifully drawn in the book), whores for desert nomads in exchange for food, is help captive in a Sultan’s harem, and is in a dungeon as well. Bottom-line: Her life is not rosy. The only comfort she found was with Zam and the years spent with him and she doesn’t know where he is. She ultimately finds him and finds out about his suffering, only to reach the end where there is much positivity and love. I am putting it loosely in this review as I do not want to reveal anything about the plot and what happens in the book.
Habibi (My Beloved) is a love story. Of a girl who takes in an orphan and is representative of everything she is to him – a friend, a mother, a guide, a sister and a lover. Habibi has several sub-plots. There is the emphasis on the heritage of Islam and Christianity and its similarities, which again are beautifully expressed. There is a lot of hard-facing reality in this book. For instance, when Zam is alone and without anyone by his side, the measures taken by him to survive are raw and realistic. The visuals are marvelously done and the message is heart-felt. For instance, Zam loves listening to stories told by Dodola, and it is done fascinatingly in the book.
For me Habibi was a journey of a different kind. It taught me a lot and also made me realize that at the core of it, humanity sometimes is not what you might expect it to be. Thompson balances the points of view between spirituality and lust delicately and brings the concept of, “struggle with oneself” quite eloquently throughout the book. Habibi celebrates life through it all and for me that is the highlight of this book. A must graphic novel to adorn your shelves for sure.