Faber £20

Habibi, By Craig Thompson

An enchanting epic of love and survival emerges from the desert sands

Habibi follows the success of Craig Thompson's multi award-winning Blankets.

It begins in the baking deserts of Arabia, where the land blisters beneath a drought and a young girl, Dodola, is sold into marriage. Her husband, many years her senior, is a local scribe who copies manuscripts for a living. His influence on Dodola's life is ambivalent and brief. Before he is murdered by bandits, he steals her virginity, introducing her to a world in which her body is possessed by men and, as a woman, she can never aspire to independence. He also teaches her to read and write, imbuing her with stories that sustain her as Thompson's epic unfolds.

Dodola is sold from one form of servitude into another, from marriage to the slave souks of an impoverished city. It is there that she claims a baby as her own, sparing him from death and vowing to take care of him. Together they flee to forge a life of blissful independence in a discarded boat amid the dunes of the desert.

The child is black, which means he is of lower caste. His given name is Cham, like the dark-skinned child of Noah, whose offspring were cursed forever as servants to Cham's lighter-skinned brethren. Dodola re-names him Zam, after the river Zamzam, the sacred stream among the sands where Ismael is said to have stubbed his toe. Ismael's discovery of the stream was a salvation to him and his mother, and gave birth to Islam, the third Abrahamic religion. Tales from the Koran and the interplay between monotheistic interpretations of faith weave through Zam and Dodola's adventures. Dodola proves as adept at narrating stories as Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights.

Thompson's enchanting imagery brings these accounts to life: the Arabic alphabet morphs into characters and unfurls into a tapestry of script, memory and anecdote. When Zam and Dodola are separated, each struggles to survive without the other. Dodola thinks of Zam as her child, while Zam's feelings for the beautiful Dodola are complicated by lust. Dodola is coerced into the harem of an power-drunk sultan. Zam struggles with his own masculinity, desperate to obliterate that which he feels to be the source of brutality and perversion. Yet neither ceases to yearn for the other during their long years apart.

Exactly when and where is the setting of the epic? This is never made clear, giving the story a sense of immediacy and of timelessness. Modernity converges against the folds of the desert, and its outcrop of medieval slums. The march of progress is relentless and no less brutal than the souks, where a child can still be bought for a handful of change. Suddenly it appears that the gluttony of men has given rise to the drought, not the hand of God. Ambiguity pervades a book where there are no easy answers. Religion is beautiful, poignant and nourishing, yet among the faithful there exists ample evidence of abuse of power; of racism, misogyny and greed. It is human cruelty and corruption that have ransacked paradise. Against this decline and despair, the only compass in a barren wilderness is love.

Habibi is a triumph of creativity. Thompson dazzles us with his pen strokes, with his mastery of storytelling, his research, plotting and characterisation. The book is destined to become an instant classic, confirming the author's position among not only the most masterful of graphic novelists but our finest contemporary writers, regardless of medium.

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain