Habibi (Pantheon Graphic Novels)

by Craig Thompson

Hardcover, 2011




Pantheon, (2011)


"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"--Dust jacket wrap.… (more)

Media reviews

When I had finished reading Habibi, I thought, well, it's Orientalist, it's misogynist, but damn, he learned how to write Arabic calligraphy well. ... To my surprise, I discovered from reports of people who had seen Thompson read and discuss his work, that though he had learned the basics of the
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alphabet, the intricate calligraphy in the book was all traced from outside sources. ... But this is simply one more example of the shallowness that undergirds the entire work: a laudable impulse to learn more, to reverse prejudice, was followed by a lazy embrace of Burton over Said, of voyeurism over empowerment, and tracing over writing. Habibi is a beautiful book and a terrible book. I am grateful for how much it has offended me. I could almost burn it.
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And that is Habibi’s ultimate strength. All its cleverness, all its density, all its intricacy, are brought together in the service of one simple but all-too-easily-forgotten point: There is no way through this life but with each other. That is the foundation for Thompson’s interlocking
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patterns, its self-evidence obscured from our view like the scratched-out shapes that form a letter. Thankfully we have a writer like Thompson around to focus our gaze.
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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

User reviews

LibraryThing member labfs39
Habibi is an ambitious undertaking, with the author attempting to portray many of the world's ills, from the treatment of women and Africans in the strictest (unnamed) Muslim country to environmental concerns such as water pollution and garbage dumps. In addition, the author attempts to depict
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similarities between stories in the Hebrew Bible/New Testament and the Quran. For instance, he compares the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son in parallel religious traditions in a visual and simple way. I found this thread of the story to be the most interesting.

The main characters of the story are Dodola, a young girl sold into marriage at a very young age, and who subsequently is forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. And the orphan toddler, Zam, whom she rescues from a slave auction and nurtures until he is twelve. The two are then separated for six years, and when they are reunited they form an unusual love relationship.

Habibi is a beautifully drawn graphic novel with extensive calligraphy and Islamic design elements. I decided to read the book simply from it's cover and a glance at a few pages. For this reason alone, I would recommend reading it. However, I found aspects of the story to be disturbing, especially the transition from a maternal relationship to a sexual one. In addition, I often felt adrift, as the novel takes place in an unnamed place in a time that seems to be both historic and modern. Unfettered with any ties to the real world, the novel seems to move in arbitrary ways that push the plot forward, but in ways that feel surreal. I think a push from the editor for narrative clarity and purpose would have been helpful. I also think that it is a beautifully designed book that could attract readers who wouldn't typically read a graphic novel.

Qualified recommendation.
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LibraryThing member msf59
This is tale of a journey, following Dodola and Zam, two orphaned slaves, bound together by necessity and love. We accompany this unlikely couple, through deserts, industrial wastelands and royal palaces, populated with the downtrodden, the wicked and the wealthy. This is a big sprawling story,
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told in illustrated form. There is beauty here, but there is also much darkness; Dodola, a comely young woman, is featured much of the time unclothed and is sexually abused repeatedly and is dominated by a host of mostly unappealing men. I understand most of this is reflective of the time and place but it can still make the reader squirm.
The drawings are both raw and lovely and the sweeping narrative is incredibly ambitious. It’s a book I do recommend but if you are unsure because of my comments, you might want to think twice.
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LibraryThing member zzshupinga
Craig Thompson, best known for his graphic novel memoir Blankets, has created yet another epic masterpiece that spans across time and space. Set in the Middle East and drawing inspiration from Islamic history and the Qur'an, we follow the epic story of Dodola and Zam, two orphans that escape the
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Arab slave trade. Their story begins together in a boat abandoned in the middle of the desert set in between a town in poverty and an opulent city where the Sultan dwells, where stories are told and dreams are born. Over nine years Zam and Dodola grow up together on the boat (Zam is 3 in the beginning and Dodola as 12) till the day things come crashing down...and Dodola is kidnapped into the harem of the Sultan. And Zam is left to fend for himself and gets lost amongst the city. Their stories separate, each under going their own trials and tribulations, yet each crying out for each other in the darkness of the night. Each broken and molded in new ways and yet, when their paths cross again each is happy to claim the other yet again. And the story continues on, in a new boat, and in a new sea.

First of all this is just an absolutely beautifully designed book. I just keep getting lost in looking at the design of it, even before I open the pages. The letter are embossed in gold lettering into the cover; with white insets, one on the front cover, the back cover, and one on the spine, depicting the characters at three different points in their lives; and the design around the insets and over the cover are like calligraphy from a lost scroll. It just feels and looks like something that you would find only in the most opulent library in the world, and yet you get a chance to hold it in your own hands. And while the end pages when you open the book may not look like much, you soon come to realize just how important they are to the story.

This is an epic love story told over time, and the type of love changes as the story moves forward--from brother/sister, to maternal, to love between two people. We know that Thompson worked on this story for a long time and its clearly evident that it's a labor of love to him. What isn't evident at first is how all of the pieces of the story fit together. When I first started reading this it felt like the story didn't flow smoothly together, at least not as smoothly as Blankets did, because Thompson is constantly blending in the past and the present and feeding us different bits of information--such as how Arabic script is drawn. But I should have known that Thompson had a plan and as you move further into the story all of the parts weave together to form one epic tale. And by the end you'll be blown away by how well the story is woven and told.

Not only was the writing a labor of love for Craig, but it's clear the artwork is as well. Everything single detail is hand drawn, nothing copied. And while that might sound trivial, as you open the book and get into the story you begin to notice just how much Arabic script and pattern are put into the story. And you can begin to imagine just how long it took to get just the right stroke of the brush to produce them. Thompson's artwork has improved since his time with Blankets, especially in capturing the human figure. The expressions on the characters faces, the way that the bodies move, is absolutely fantastic and makes the characters almost leap off the page. The line quality in figures in some ways reminds me of Will Eisner's work, and just his ability to capture the human figure with ease. But it still retains Craig's style and you can see elements of Chunky Rice and Blankets in the way the sands of the desert are drawn and the look in the characters eyes. All together the artwork is fantastic.

There's a quote from Neil Gaiman on the band around the book, where he says that this book should be held in the same regard as Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. And yet...I holder it in even higher regard as Thompson has created a story where everything works in absolute perfect harmony and is a book that everyone should pick up and read at least once...and ponder on the story and the meaning behind this fantastic work.
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LibraryThing member VioletBramble
Dodola is a 9 year old girl sold into marriage by her father. Her husband, a scribe, tells her stories and teaches her how to read and write. When Dodola is 12 she is stolen from her husband and branded as a slave. She manages to escape from the slave market with a 3 year old orphan boy, Cham.
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(Dodola calls him Zam) Dodola and Zam live in an abandoned boat in the dessert. Dodola raises Zam as if he were her child, she shares her stories with him, and teaches him to read and write. Dodola uses her body to trade for food from the men in the passing caravans. When Dodola is 21 and Zam is 12 they become separated. After many years apart and many struggles they are reunited and eventually form a different relationship. Although the story is often bleak and violent (mainly sexual violence) the ultimate message is positive.
Thompson uses stories from Islam and Christianity, weaving them together, in narrative as well as in the illustrations. This is a gorgeous book. Thompson utilizes the Arabic alphabet, alchemical symbols and arabesque design motifs as borders, chapter and endpapers and background design elements. Some of the art panels are stunning. One of my favorite panels shows the two main characters standing with their arms wrapped around each other in a hug with rain pouring down. In this panel the rain is depicted as the words of a poem in Arabic. (An excerpt from the poem is below).
An amazing book. Highly recommended.

excerpt from Rain Song by Badr Shakir al-Sayyab
Translated from Arabic by Lena Jayyusi and Christopher Middleton

It is as if archways of mist drank the clouds
And drop by drop dissolved in the rain...
As if children snickered in the vineyard towers,
The song of the rain
Rippled the silence of birds in the trees...
Drip, drop, the rain...
Drop...the rain

Evening yawned, from low clouds
Heavy tears are streaming still.
It is as if a child before sleep were rambling on
About his mother ( a year ago he went to wake her, did not find her,
Then was told, for he kept on asking,
"After tomorrow, she'll come back again...")

That she must come back again,
Yet his playmates whisper that she is there
In the hillside, sleeping her death forever,
Eating the earth around her, drinking the rain;
As if a forlorn fisherman gathering nets
Cursed the waters and fate
And scattered a song at moonset,
Drip, drop, the rain...
Drip, drop, the rain...

Do you know what sorrows the rain can inspire?
Do you know how gutters weep when it pours down?
Do you know how lost a solitary person feels in the rain?
Endless, like spilt blood, like hungry people, like love,
Like children, like the dead, endless the rain.
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LibraryThing member -Eva-
Escaped slaves Dodola and Zam have to face the horrors of the modern/ancient world in order to survive. The good parts are the excellent art and a few of the storylines (those dealing with contemporary consumerism and environmentalism), but they get buried a little underneath another forty or so
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storylines. Unfortunately, it's quite sexist as well - pretty much every male in the book is up for some rape whenever a woman is around, no big deal. Its racial stereotypes that are pretty bad too - apparently in Thompson's idea of the Muslim world, harems where a sultan can have women's heads chopped off without anyone reacting is compatible with having a regular 21st century modern city outside its walls. In total, it's a yes for the art and a couple of the storylines and a resounding no for all the rest.
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LibraryThing member kittyjay
Habibi is the lengthy, lavishly drawn tale of a woman, Dodola, and Zam, the male slave boy she rescues when still a child herself. When they both escape from slavers, they are separated and must find their way back to each other - both losing, recovering, and reinventing their identities along the
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way. More than that, though, Dodola becomes a Scheherazade figure, telling stories that deftly interweave the origins of Islam and Christianity and uses her wits to survive.

The first thing to note is that Habibi contains some of the most beautiful artwork ever to grace a graphic novel. The panels themselves weave Arabic motifs in with the story, and a strong focus is put on flowing calligraphy. Some panels - not even the artwork itself, but just the design framing device, are so achingly beautiful that you could spend hours working out the intricate details of each swoop and curve.

The story itself is good, though I must admit that there were no lines that particularly stuck in my mind, and the length of the book weighs itself down.

Then there are the problems... Dodola is the victim of sexual violence from the very beginning, when she is married off at the age of nine to a husband. She then barters her body for food from caravaners, is kidnapped and forced to be a concubine for a sultan, and is raped numerous times throughout the story. While this in itself all serves the purpose of the story and never feels gratuitous or sexualized, Thompson does have an annoying habit of rarely showing Dodola clothed at all. Most of the scenes with her are her nude or partially nude - even when she isn't having sex. While this could be seen as an attempt to show how others see her, and her own cynical feelings toward her body and the way men desire her, it did feel a little gratuitous. Sexuality is problematic in this book, to say the least. Zam feels guilty because of his desire for Dodola, to the point of castrating himself in order to get rid of the feelings. In a telling scene near the end, where Dodola and Zam enter a Westernized city, she views women walking in high heels and short skirts, and removes her own headscarf with a victorious expression; a panel later, she passes some men who leer at her, and puts the scarf back on, covering her face.

The other problem is that Thompson seems to want to bring the fairy tale aspect to the fore - the Scheherazade reference, particularly, is in regards to the sultan giving her 70 days to entertain him each night, or else she dies - which works, but is later turned on its head toward the end with the Westernized, modern city right next to the backwards, barbaric sultan's city. The fairy tale also falters - the Scriptures quoted, the "fable" feeling of Dodola's clever way of tricking the sultan when he forces her to turn water into gold, all work to create a certain feel - but then some hint of modernity, either in the dialogue or references made - throws the reader out of that atmosphere. While there are some authors who I would trust to deftly juggle both - modern references have been used in fairy tales, and can work - the ones used here were too brief and sporadic to ever feel like it was contributing rather than destroying the atmosphere so lovingly built.

Despite these problems, I am still giving this three stars, because the artwork is so intricate, so detailed, so painstakingly inked, that it would be a shame to miss it.
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LibraryThing member drmarymccormack
This book is fantastic. The story is quite unusual and brilliant. The art is amazing! Really exquisite! I really wish I could read the calligraphy because it is so beautiful. It's about two orphans who take care of each other. They go through tremendous trials to survive. They lose each other and
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then find each other again. One cannot live without the other. The storyline is interrupted with tales from the Qur'an. I've never read the Qur'an, so many of the stories were new to me. I loved it!
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Wrrr. This graphic novel. Wrrr. The art is *amazing.* The structure and the intertwining of motifs and themes is by turns fascinating and compelling. The story is only so-so. And then there's the "urg" feeling I had the whole time I was reading. The story is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country
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sometime in the near-ish future. Here's my first two "urg" feelings: Craig Thompson is not, to the best of my ability to discover, of any sort of Middle Eastern descent nor is he culturally adjacent in any way (like, say, having married someone of Middle Eastern descent). A white person writing a book about the Middle East is not an automatic "urg," but it does make me pay real close attention and start looking for an answer to the question, "Why *this* story, why by *you*?" I didn't feel like I ever got that answer. And the nonspecificity of the setting made me go "Hrrm" as well. Americans aren't historically so great at understanding Middle Eastern countries, cultures, and peoples with nuance and specificity, so the vague setting feels like maybe not enough effort. Then there's the dramatic sexualization of the female lead, who is shown naked *a lot* and who is raped *a lot* and who we *see* getting raped *a lot.* I didn't feel like this nudity and sexual violence was helping me confront anything or learn anything (except maybe demonstrating that whole "arousal does not equal desire" thing, but I never felt like Thompson was going for that, so.). There's a sultan who is one hundred percent governed by his lusts. Flrn. He's got a harem, and guess how many of the women in it are full-fledged characters rather than naked women we see the sultan ****ing in all kinds of positions? Dingdingding. Zero. And then there are the characters of African descent. They are decidedly simian in appearance. They are *treated* (some of them anyway) as fully-rounded characters; their depiction in the story is not racist as far I saw, but their *images* were. Whhyyyyyy? Aside from the eye-popping "wow" of the art itself, the positive thing that stood out to me about this graphic novel was the depiction of stories from both Christian and Islamic religious tradition that were woven into the larger narrative. These were magnificently illustrated, and the explanation of the differences between the same stories from the two different traditions were fascinating. It made me wish Thompson had teamed up with some religious scholars and done a nonfic comparative graphic work about Christianity and Islam. Alas.
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LibraryThing member heterotopic
While I appreciate the research that went into this book, I'm a bit ambivalent when it comes to the narrative. It's a story of different kinds of love, across time and space--which I'm not sure if I can say is wholly original. The drawings are beautiful--even breathtaking at times (the village
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scenes and drawings of the woman's body, filled with Arabic script)--but the narrative itself feels a bit half-baked. I enjoyed the use of the script metaphorically, incorporated in the storyline. The graphic novel was executed well, in the sense that the drawings flowed well like the script and the story served to educate: faith (and love, for that matter), in reality, don't start with god but within one's self; spreading out to encompass others, the world around us, and to a god.
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LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
Lush, visceral, and sensual, this masterpiece of a book is about the power of story and the power of love.
LibraryThing member fremd
Loved the artwork, but was a few times thrown off by the message and story of the book, which, while often beautiful, felt to me in several places heavy-handed or too shallow.

Artistically and thematically, this is a much, much more ambitious project than Thompson's previous works and as a fan, I
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was very pleased with it. I think though if I were to recommend a book for a reader dipping their first toes into Thompson, I would recommend 'Blankets'.
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LibraryThing member BrittDonohueWhite
Habibi is a breathtaking masterpiece. Thompson uses incredible artwork, stories from the K'oran and the Bible, and present day environmental and civic blight to tell the epic story of Dodola and Zam (Habibi). Intertwined with present day narrative are flashbacks, fables, instructional text all
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presented in intense text and lush artwork.
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LibraryThing member alexann
One of the most visually stunning graphic novels I've seen. It's truly beautiful! Very interesting comparisons between the Qu'ran and the Bible Old Testament throughout. Plot a little weak, but the book is so satisfying to hold and look at, that it doesn't make much difference in the overall
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
Habibi by Craig Thompson, a lengthy graphic novel, is impressive in ambition, scope and execution. It centers on Dodola and Zam (Habibi), who are orphaned and victimized in the Arab slave trade, but manage to stay true to each other through some fairly horrific occurrences. It features many links
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to Muslim religion and Scheherazade-type storytelling, and travels from the desert to a harem to a modern dam to a waste-spewing modern city, with a riot of characters and life sketches. The drawing is high quality, and takes a variety of forms, including religious illumination and near-abstract.

I liked Thompson's very personal graphic memoir Blankets a lot, and wanted to like this one. Instead, I respected it. The reading experience was more "meh" than I hoped. Having said that, there are a lot of folks who feel much more positively about this book, and it certainly has all the indicia of a masterwork. Just not captivating enough for me.
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LibraryThing member WinterFox
I'm not really a particularly visual person, and so for other people, I think the idea that the nature and style of art can really add not just texture and flavor, but content to a story, is probably not too remarkable. I've read it a bunch of times in reviews, after all. This book, though, is the
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first time where I've really understand that idea. It's really a masterful piece of work, and I think the prettiest graphic novel I've ever read.

This is the story of Dodola and Zam, two people living around the fictional Arab city state of Wanatolia, and follows both of them from childhood to adulthood. Dodola is 9 years older than Zam, and was sold over as a wife at a very young age; at the early end of her marriage, she takes up Zam, an orphan, and they live in a beached boat within the desert. What follows is their story through thick and thin; for each of them, they make their way through the village, the city, the sultan's palace, an industrial zone... together and apart, the decisions they make tend to have the other in mind. Their relationship evolves over time, as well; not necessarily in the most comfortable ways, for me, but it feels realistic enough.

The story treats each of them roughly, and the reader should be prepared for that; in a lot of ways, it's not happy. But it is beautiful - all the Arabic influenced art, the rich, detailed pictures, and all the stories from the different religious traditions that Dodola tells Zam, that flesh out their story through other people's stories, and how they inflect people's lives. And this is a realm of different sorts of stories: there are caravans of camels and a sumptuous sultan's palace and eunuchs... but there are also high-rise skyscrapers and trucks and planes. I think perhaps this is meant to give it a timeless feel, but it does make it feel a bit disjointed sometimes.

All told, this was a richly told, interesting story, even with some small reservations I have for it. And oh my, is it pretty.
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LibraryThing member wcarter
An intensively illustrated novel with a convoluted plot of love, slavery and survival that takes elements from 1001 Arabian Nights, Greenpeace, the Koran, Japanese Manga comics, The Old Testament, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Kama Sutra. A fascinating new genre.
LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
My experience with graphic novels is new and at present I'm enamoured with their gorgeous possibility. Habibi by Craig Thompson is a love story at heart, the title itself is Arabic for "my beloved."
LibraryThing member AramisSciant
The good - this book is amazingly beautiful. The way the author combines Islamic designs (arabesques, Arabic scripts, etc.) is absolutely fantastic. I kept coming back and again to enjoy my favorite panels (rain made from an Arabic poem comes to mind).
However, I felt the "novel" part in "graphic
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novel" was not as good. The characters are a bit too simple and while I liked the flashbacks and back stories, I felt there were way too many digressions to what felt to me like "Islamic culture 101". I also felt he picked from the Islamic traditions manly those stories that would be familiar to a Western audience with a minimal knowledge of biblical stories. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed this graphic novel most of the time.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
This is beautiful. Love and lust and hate and desire and religion and greed and love and myths and...

the beauty of stories and love and faith itself.

Damn this is beautiful. The artwork is incredible. I wouldn't be surprised if it took days for some of those panels. Even the binding is ornate and
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intricate and rich and textured. I'm running out of laudatory adjectives and I'm tired, so I'll stop here.
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LibraryThing member LouRhynald
The story wandered a little bit more than Blankets, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. It is big and thematic and has a lot to say, some of which some people may not be that interested in hearing. If you like stories about the love and struggle and the lows of the human experience then it
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probably is up your alley. Also very much worth mentioning is the insane artwork. Calligraphy and illustration was just beautiful.
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LibraryThing member krizia_lazaro
All I can say is this book is one of the greatest love story I ever read. Its really all about LOVE. Love you thought was impossible. its love between different races. Its also love between two religions. I'm Catholic but I'm enamored with Muslim culture after reading this book. Their stories and
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writings are so rich. I can read this all day! After this one I would love to learn how to read and write Arabic. Its a language so beautiful and so well-thought off. Everybody must read "Habibi".
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LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
Another amazing book by Craig Thompson. Simply amazing artwork which is crucially woven into the text of the story. This is clearly an adult graphic novel, I will be putting this up on the high shelf until my kid is old enough to reach it, but it done tastefully and honestly. Sexuality is a major
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theme running through the book. There are some fairly intense scenes depicting child birth, rape, and brutality. But there are also pages and pages of love and curiosity. Thompson clearly did a lot of research to try and delve into the complexities of Islam and Arabic myth and folklore. He also has done a great job of synthesizing the art styles of Islam, particularly that of geometric patterns and the Arabic language. This is a huge leap from Blankets, which was also amazing. I am looking forward to any future projects that Thompson invests his energy into. Habibi was easily worth the wait. My thanks to my friend Tom for gifting me this book for my birthday. Great choice as usual.
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LibraryThing member Berly
Habibi by Craig Thompson. I think I can thank Mark for recommending this one! It is only my third graphic novel and I so appreciated the art in this one. It was an amazing love story, a fascinating exploration of the symmetries between Christianity and Islam and a juxtaposition of brash modern
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industrial noise and the seemingly timeless harem world. I probably should give it a straight up 5, but the sexual violence bothered me. Then again, this story wouldn't exist without it. Highly recommended. 4.5
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LibraryThing member KatPruce
I think that readers who are tempted to dip their toes in graphic novel waters may want to give Habibi a try. Thompson's longer format may be more appealing to those used to traditional books. Also, the drawings in this book are exquisite! Each page is extremely detailed in this tome...language
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swirls into art which transforms into religious stories.

However, be aware that this is a dark adventure story...a sobering tale of Dodola and Zam trying to avoid enslavement. There are a lot of issues brought forth in this tale such as poverty and power struggles. The most blatant issue to me while reading Habibi was that of gender conflict - which manifested in the story through physical trauma (FYI for the squeamish: there's lots of sexual violence in this book).

Recommended For Those:

-In the mood for a heavier/dark read
-Who enjoy graphic novels (the illustrations will blow you away).
-Who like Middle Eastern settings
-Who are attracted to stories of struggle and overcoming of squalid circumstances
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LibraryThing member John_Pappas
Overall, a weak, weak, weak story-line. Predicable and poor. Still liked the artwork but loved Craig Thompson's other works so much better.


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