Book Club: Habibi

Book Club: Habibi

Quick Update:

I wonder if you even remember what my voice sounds like. My… typing voice. I’d like to think it’s like a sexy Eliza Dushku raspiness, but I feel like it’s more realistically a Kathleen Turner kind of raspiness which, honestly, I’m really into.



Anyway, do with my typing voice as you will while I get into this long-overdue book review.


Our Review - No Spoilers:

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi Cover by Bader Shirawi.jpg

Not our first venture into the world of Craig Thompson, but definitely a huge step outside of an autobiographical piece. It’s a massive 672-page graphic novel set in a historical fictional Islamic… land? In short, it revolves around the relationship of two protagonists as they develop and transform both individually and as a unit. The tale is one of fantasy, drama, and romance - with a whole lot of religious lore sprinkled all over.

That was my little spoiler-free summary, so now let’s get right into the good, the meh, and the bad of Habibi before the final reviews and a quick logistical summary. That’s right, logistical summary.

Firstly, the undisputed and unanimously agreed-upon fact about Habibi and Craig Thompson in general: that art is out of this world. The artistic expression in Thompson’s work is impeccable and has become such an accepted fact, that I don’t think we even got into it very much at the book review. If you’re a connoisseur of comic book art, then the decision to read Thompson’s work is a no-brainer.

The plot is complex and goes through a lot of very distinctive stages throughout the book. Still, the content is heavy but the graphic novel is a seamless read, so don’t let its size deter you. There are a lot of themes explored as the plot develops, including racism and slavery, sexual violence and sexism, and even environmentalism and pollution.

The style accurately depicts ancient Arabian story-telling and humor, and there are small side stories planted throughout the book that are both beautiful and engaging.

Now, to the other aspect of our review. The development of the two protagonists’ relationship can sometimes feel very uncomfortable. The sexual violence depicted throughout can be uncomfortable. And Habibi didn’t feel as personal to us as Blankets did. We didn’t connect with the characters the way we connected to many of the characters in his autobiographical novel. That being said, I’ve had people tell me the opposite and that they connected more with Habibi than Blankets - so that’s a completely personal judgement. Then again, all of this is a completely personal judgement. So.

But the ultimate discomfort, which I have to be fair - only 2/4 of us felt - is the inherent annoyance in having a white male tell us an elaborate story about a female who lives in an Islamic world. Thompson spent years researching the culture and the religion in order to write Habibi, including taking in the help of many consultants who are experts in the culture. A quick Google search of book reviews shows you how polarizing this book is; you get critics calling Habibi a masterpiece, and others who call the book a mess of Orientalism because slaves were depicted as caricatures, Arab men like savages, and women as sexual objects. I’m going to include a couple of critic quotes that I think put this point into words perfectly:

It’s often hard to tell whether Thompson is making fun of Orientalism or indulging in it...Thompson the illustrator is...apparently unable to think of Dodola without disrobing is a conventional sort of virtuosity, in the service of a conventional exoticism.
— Robyn Creswell (The New York Times)
Habibi is a success on many levels, but it also contains elements that are strikingly problematic...The artistic playground [Thompson] chose of barbaric Arabs devoid of history but not savagery is a well-trod environment in Western literature....The problem in making something knowingly racist is that the final product can still be read as racist.
— Nadim Damluji (The Hooded Utilitarian)

I don’t know. You tell me.



In Summary - Our Review

★★★ and a half




★★★★ and a half


★★★ and a half




★★★ and a half

It's pretty good.

Genre: Romance, Drama, Historical Fantasy
Density: Loaded content but seamless reading; 3-5 Sittings
Pro: Incredible visual expression
Con: Possible cultural appropriation
Digital Availability: No
Bahrain Availability: No

Order it from Amazon or Book Depository

Next Review


120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade

- Erotic Literature, Classic

Fun Home Cover.jpeg

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

- Graphic Novel, Memoir, Non-Fiction


What? Two upcoming books in one review, Noor? Don't worry, it'll all make sense soon. Shh, shh... it's okay.

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