Habibi, by Criag Thompson

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Habibi, by Craig Thompson

Here's a review of a graphic novel to kick things off. And let me just say--Whoa.

I've read Craig Thompson's critically-praised earlier works, and if I were to use one word to describe Goodbye, Chunky Rice it would be "bittersweet". Blankets would be "loss." If I were to use one word to describe Habibi it would be "epic."

Actually, I might throw "tragedy" in there, too.

Set in a fictional middle-eastern Islamic country, this story has everything: child brides, slavery, prophetic visions, institutional misogyny and racism, water as a symbol of environmentalism, a harem... A lot of bad stuff goes down, but the author is very careful to never judge the Muslim worldview by which everyone is governed.

Equal to the scope of this book is the author's creative vision. Arabic calligraphy, magic squares, and the intricate abstract illuminations (necessary to the Muslim faith because representational art is considered idolatry) are all absolutely integral to the story-- all visual components, which move the narrative forward. The book itself is 665 pages with amazing art on every page. The author must have learned Arabic to write this, and obvious immersed himself in the Koran and Islamic tradition--nothing in the text gives away he grew up as a church-going kid in rural Michigan.

In the end, these broken characters have faith that water (and gnostic-like purity) will be their deliverance, and their ultimate redemption will be through loving Allah without the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. As a Christian, I have faith that not water, but blood will save, and that the shed blood is evidence that a mighty God went through hell to love ME.

What a difference. This graphic novel is an amazing glimpse into an altogether foreign worldview which makes me so thankful for my own.