Habibi follows Dodola, a young Arab woman, and Dodola’s adopted son, Zam. Dodola was sold into marriage at a very young age and, though her husband allows her something of a childhood and ensures she is educated, Dodola is eventually kidnapped and forced into slavery and prostitution. It is as a slave that Dodola, then an early teenager, finds Zam, a three-year-old slave who she takes in.
Dodola and Zam escape their captors and flee to the desert. They live in isolation for years until they are found and Dodola is captured for the sultan’s harem. Zam is alone and Dodola is again enslaved. They are determined to find one another again.
The art in Habibi is beautiful. It integrates the story, biblical tales, and Arabic script beautifully.
The story itself was disappointing. Habibi could have been an interesting story about motherhood, love, and freedom.
As the story progressed, the relationship between Zam and Dodola became less and less familial. This is somewhat expected. Boys grow up, after all, and relationships can be changed by this. But there wasn’t a lot of foreshadowing for this change on Dodola’s part. Throughout the book, she refers to Zam as her true child, even rejecting her own biological children because they were not Zam. It was very strange and discomfiting to then see their relationship change to a less familial and more romantic relationship. It seemed out of place.
I couldn’t figure out what time or place they were supposed to be in. It may just be that it’s hard for me to conceive of a country that has plumbing, electricity, and modern automotives that also has a section of its population that doesn’t know that it exists. It’s also hard to see a country with those amenities condoning slavery, especially given political pressures that exist in the world. I could normally attempt to ignore this, but it stood in such contrast and really segmented the plot and the character’s journeys.
Overall, I was disappointed. I gave this a 3 of 5.
Get your copy of Habibi here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Habibi-Craig-Thompson/9780571241323