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I don’t even really know what I read here, but I do know that liked it.
Part love story, part coming-of-age novel, part environmental warning, Habibi covers a lot of ground.
Dodola and Zam meet as children when they’re up for sale in a slave market in what appears to be the Middle East. Events unfold and they find themselves living alone in the desert with only each other for company. Thompson explores the changing nature of relationships as they grow older. Dodola has always cared for the younger Zam as a mother would, doing whatever it takes to keep them both alive. As Zam ages, he outgrows the self-absorption of youth and starts trying to care for Dodola in turn. Their lives keep twisting and turning but their love is always selfless.
The way the story seemed to span through time bothered me at first. I first thought the story was taking place in ancient times but then little things crept in and I kept adjusting the time frame forward until I decided that they were living in the modern world. I interpreted that to be a reflection of the timeless nature of love. The world changes but human nature doesn’t really change, for better or for worse. Bits of stories from the Koran were sprinkled throughout the larger story, reinforcing that timeless feel.
Speaking of the Koran, I have to speculate on why this story is set in that particular part of the world. The audience is going to be Western. Maybe the author is reinforcing what we should already know–cultural differences aside, people are still just people, wherever you go. If this book were set somewhere else, a lot of superficial details would change, for sure, but the heart of the story would still be the same.
The artwork is beautiful. I enjoyed Craig Thompson’s memoir, Blankets, but Habibi is even more amazingly drawn. The love, the violence, the fear–I could see it all in these pages. The Arabic calligraphy is spectacular to my Western eyes as well.
My apologies for this rambling review. There’s a lot here to discuss and I wish I had someone to discuss it with. My thoughts are all disjointed. I recommend that anyone pick it up with an open mind and see where it leads you.
Read an excerpt.
My review of Blankets, also by this author.
Buy Habibi at
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