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Craig Thompson
Pantheon, 2011
Source: Library
Audience: Adults

From Goodreads:
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.

Oh, wow. This was so not the book for me. I liked the art and Craig Thompson’s efforts, but I still disliked the book overall. I understood that it had powerful themes and was tied to understanding religion and sin... but ew.

The storyline started out sad and painful - then quickly lost its power by becoming gross. Instead of reading to understand a story of despair, I kept reading out of morbid fascination. What crazy thing would happen next? It reminded me of reading books by Ellen Hopkins, as she crammed a lot of trauma into each book. Another difficult aspect of Habibi was that I didn’t understand what the title meant (I looked it up, and it seems to be the equivalent of “baby” in English as you would say to a significant other, not meaning a small child.) A footnote or explanation would have been helpful.

Finally, the setting was impossible to grasp. At first, I thought it was set during an Arabian Nights timeframe and world, and that’s what I assumed for 80% of the book - until I saw plumbing, they started talking about electricity, and sewage was a problem. Then I wondered if it was a Middle Eastern steampunk-like book. Who knows what it’s supposed to be? Furthermore, I had a hard time figuring out what the time frame was in the story. Were we in a flashback? Was it a dream? Was it real? How did Dodola get to the harem? Did I miss something? (I actually went back and looked.) The transitions between time, place and characters made Habibi all the more difficult to read. I would have appreciated better transition and an author’s note as to what inspired him to write such a story, and what the meaning was to him. I think it would have increased my understanding of the book.

Overall, I’m disappointed and mystified. Some people might love this book - but not me, unfortunately.