What Made Me Cry This Week – Habibi

Habibi CoverCan I just say that I love this new “job” of mine? I get to read stories that I love. Stories that move me, and enchant my small heart. Stories that actually make this heart bigger, opening it up to new experiences, worlds, and ideas. And Craig Thompson, in Habibi, did just that.

Thompson has already moved me through his graphic novel Blankets; Habibi only increased my admiration for his ability to convey emotion in creative ways.

So, the main plot:

A girl named Dodola is made a slave. She runs away with a younger slave that she has taken in, almost as her own child. She renames him Zam. They grow up together on the boat, yes a boat, they found shipwrecked in the desert – their safe haven.

Thrown into the mix of it all are questions of sexuality. Dodola to provide food prostitutes her body. As Zam enters puberty he becomes enraptured by Dodola’s body. The story focuses on the redemption of their own sins, as they try and survive in a world dominated by the evil of humankind. But as we are shown they’ve been separated – with Dodola ending up in a Sultan’s harem. Zam’s search for Dodola begins as she tries to survive the harem.

Thompson has a magical ability to mix poetry, narrative, and visuals. He jumps from place to place, leaves us curious, intrigued, always wanting more. If I didn’t have work the next day I would have stayed up all night reading it. Oh, responsibilities – always getting in the way.

I also really liked the book for the way Thompson incorporates Arabic language, Islamic religion, and poetry. He gives breath to faith that so often seems intangible. Faith, as in Blankets, becomes a lens through which to look at the world. It becomes a means for survival to the lost ones.

Habibi shows. No, it doesn’t show. Habibi makes us live with what is wrong in our world. It makes us experience that which we often try to ignore: a world where the sex-trade still runs rampant and poverty is one of it’s major drivers.

While the world is dark, Thompson is still able to deliver some brushstrokes of hope. At the end, I cried: I mourned for the many lives that have suffered under the cruelty of this world, but also for the glimpse of hope given.

The hope Thompson gives never once felt like the stuff of fairy-tales. It felt real, like I could run into it around the block from my house.

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Hope to see you soon! Or next week more precisely, at 10AM!

 

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What Made Me Cry This Week – Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen YangBoxers - by Gene Luen Yang\

For me as a Christian, reading Boxers and Saints was hard. The story highlights mistakes Christians have made through history, especially in their association with politics, power, and wars.

But it does it in a simple and beautiful way. The story arch is simple and direct.

In the first volume, the story of the leader “Little Bao”* from the Boxer Rebellion, in China, is told. It shows the struggle of his town and family under the oppression of Saints - by Gene Luen Yang“foreign devils:” westerners and Christians. And so we follow Little Bao’s rise to military power against the oppressors; he learns Kung Fu and how to “harness” powers from the Chinese gods.

Mixing mythology and day-to-day happenings, the book took me alongside the rise and downfall of the revolution. I cheered for them to some degree, I understood their suffering and pain, but soon began to see the inevitable end approaching under Bao’s leadership.

The art is clean with a consistent style and adds to that simplicity of the narrative. Bold lines, blocked in colors and simple shadows. The art can be celebrated for its ability to convey so much through so little. It enables the reader to tread quickly through the story, never losing sight of the plot.

Once Boxer ends, one cannot feel the sadness sinking in, was anything actually accomplished?

In Saints we follow a parallel story to Boxers, the story of Four.* Four is a girl with whom Bao has a brief encounter in Boxers. She is an outcast within her and family, who wants to become a Christian to get free food and to become a “devil” – or a Christian. She eventually also starts having visions of Joan D’Arc, whom she begins to look up to as source of inspiration and strength.

As her story is told we sympathize with her, and even with her wrong childish motives. We already know the end of her story, for it appears in Boxers. But we’re still curious: how will she change and become the character we saw in Boxers? And I’ll add, there was a minor surprise I didn’t see coming at the end of Saints.

As everything goes, I couldn’t help but feel deep sorrow for all the deaths and suffering on both sides. The two stories together drive in us a sense of empathy – that neither side was truly right nor wrong, that our world is just…broken. Yang’s writing breaks the notion of us vs. them. It felt like a story needed in today’s political scenario. For that reason, I hope many people will yet read it.

* Little Bao and Four as far as I understand do not represent real historical figures.

You can buy the two graphic novels through my affiliate links! Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang. That’ll help me keep the blog going, and keep me motivated! Plus I just really recommend these books. They’re great!

Another book I’ve read, some time ago, was Gene L. Yang’s book American Born Chinese. I read Boxers and Saints in the first place because of this graphic novel. Another awesome recommendation!