My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Graphic novelist Craig Thompson first launched into my world having written Blankets. Habibi is not new but it is a clear favourite of one of my favourite students (I know we’re not supposed to have favourites) whose family moved here from Nepal just as she was starting grade 9. She said “Mrs. King you have to promise me that you will read this book this summer.” So I did.
Main character Dodola, an orphan, a child-bride, a slave, a prostitute, latches onto another orphan named Zam. Together they try to struggle through a horrible desert existence finding their love (habibi in Arabic) through story-telling and making a home in whichever safe place they can. Dodola and Zam are separated and escape their harsh realities by remembering the cozy life that they had built together, always thinking of each other and wishing to return to this comfort. The book is epic, and filled with Thompson’s beautiful and devotional attention to bringing the stories to life through exquisite detail in the drawings.
Like Blankets, Habibi is in my secondary school library with a red sticker on it, warning readers that the content and graphics are for mature readers only. Unlike Blankets, Habibi isn’t really about sex…it’s about rape and prostitution and I could compare some of the themes to Margaret Atwood‘s book The Edible Woman, in which the women are pretty much consumed by patriarchy. There is a Westernized exoticism of the culture, the locale of the setting, and especially of the incomparable beauty of Dodola that strikes me as appropriation, if not plagiarism. There I said it. It’s beautiful, it’s well-executed, but is this Thompson’s story to tell? There are credits to the mentors that Thompson used for accuracy. Perhaps this is why Thompson has faded away himself. For the sake of my devoted student, I will keep my comments about Habibi focused on the positive.