Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.
At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.
Y’all, I have finally read a graphic novel! And I have to say, I have … conflicted feelings about this one.
First, because it’s a graphic novel, I have to talk about the artistry. It was gorgeous! Every single page had so much detail and it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the work. From what I’ve read (both Goodreads reviews and other research) the intention was Orientalism which I know literally nothing about. Thus my untrained eye argues that the artistry was by far the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.
Before I continue to tell you why I have conflicted feelings about this book, I should say that I sincerely loved this book. However, after spending a significant amount of time thinking about it (almost a month), I noticed there were several things about this book that could have been taken controversially.
The most notable of these would have to be the relationship between Dodola and Zam. There was a giant shift towards the middle of the book that, at the time, I thought was interesting yet acceptable. However, after thinking about it, I can safely say that shift is not realistic to the real world while, somehow, being fine in the novel. Furthermore, the relationship shifts in a way that is definitely mentally unhealthy and should have, I felt, addressed the underlying issues.
Another issue I had later with the book was the amount of rape that this book depicted. While I will never discourage an author (or anyone else) from discussing rape, I do believe that there is a point where it becomes normalized in the context of the story. And, in doing so, eliminates the ability to have discussion. Moreover, the use of rape in what is a heavily religious-based novel almost seemed like the author was trying to make a rape an acceptable thing in religious society. While I recognized the fact that this wasn’t the case and that Thompson was speaking from a historical vantage point, I can easily see where people might try to create this connection. The unfortunate reality is that, in the past, rape was not considered an indecent act in these religions, but it is now and I felt that Thompson had a responsibility to show how Christianity and Islam have changed to reflect that.
One thing that I saw a lot of other people complaining about as I read a couple of reviews was the amount of nudity in the novel. I think these complaints don’t really have any validity to them. Once you understand that this novel is going to be dealing with the sexual aspects of religion in a historical context, you should expect a lot of nudity. Especially knowing that Dodola is a poor woman in the past, the only thing you can really expect is for their to be a lot of nudity. And more importantly, nudity just isn’t that big of a deal in my opinion. We need to stop making nudity seem like this taboo – everyone has a body and everyone is going to be nude at some point or other. If we normalize it, people aren’t going to be ashamed of their bodies.
But, before I get off my soap box, I will agree that the fact that there was more detail and more frequent nudity in the women’s bodies than there was in the men’s was incredibly irritating. If you’re going to have nudity, it’s got to be equal for everyone. However, it’s important to understand the historical context of the novel and to know that this is set during a time and a premise where women would be more frequently naked than a man. So once again, arguments towards this I felt were invalid. Now, I’m going to get off my soap box about nudity. *Steps down, gently places box back under desk*
The final thing that bothered me as I was reading the book was the way the settings changed. To be honest, I think this is more of a me problem than a problem with the book. The timeline of the story confused me in more ways than I would like to admit. Like I said, I think this is because I don’t have a lot of experience with graphic novels so I didn’t clearly understand when we were jumping between the past and the present as quickly as I should have. I think that if I were to reread it now I would probably understand it a little better but this was something that definitely irked me personally while reading this novel.
Overall, this novel was interesting. Even though I don’t talk a lot abut it in this review, there were a lot of parallels and intersections drawn between Christianity and Islam. I found it inspiring to see that these two religions came from and have almost identical ideologies. I also thought the way that Thompson drew out the similarities, when he was being overt, was beautifully and clearly done. I definitely want to reread it again to really explore those similarities without being entirely focused on the plot.
If you’re looking for a novel that shows how Christianity and Islam are similar religions I highly recommend this one. If you’re looking for a novel that deals with the relationship between sexual desires, shame, and religion, I seriously recommend this one. If you’re someone who hates nudity, do not pick this up; you’re going to be unhappy if you do. This book requires you to be open minded and ready to discuss sex and shame in ways that people don’t often do regardless of if you have a religious background or not.
Dang, that ended up being a lot longer than I had planned. It’s actually over a thousand words. I’ve spent a lot of time (almost a month and a half) trying to figure out how to write this review and I still don’t think it does this book justice. I’ll probably end up writing a follow up review in a few months if I get the chance to reread it.
But I want to hear from you guys.
Have you read Habibi? What’d you think about it? What might be stopping you from reading it, if you haven’t?