I read Shubeik Lubeik, by Deena Mohamed, a while ago for different reasons. However, one of the biggest ones was that I was curious about Arab comics and graphic novels. For once, I allowed myself to have big expectations, so I’m glad to say that this book filled all of them, and then some!
- Format: 528 pages, Hardcover.
- Published: January 10, 2023 by Pantheon.
- Genres and Tags: Fantasy, Social commentary, transgenerational trauma, queer, drama.
A brilliant and imaginative debut graphic novel that brings to life a fantastical Cairo where wishes are real. Author, illustrator, and translator Deena Mohamed presents a literary, feminist, Arab-centric graphic novel that marries magic and the socio-political realities of contemporary Egypt.
Shubeik Lubeik–a fairytale rhyme meaning “Your Wish is My Command” in Arabic–is the story of three characters navigating a world where wishes are literally for sale; mired in bureaucracy and the familiar prejudices of our world, the more expensive the wish, the more powerful and therefore the more likely to work as intended. The novel’s three distinct parts tell the story of three first class wishes as used by Aziza, Nour, and Shokry, each grappling with the challenge inherent in trying to make your most deeply held desire come true.
Deena’s mix of calligraphy and contemporary styles, brings to life a vibrant Cairene neighborhood, and a cast of characters whose struggles and triumphs are deeply resonant. Shubeik Lubeik heralds the arrival of a huge new talent and a brave, literary, political, and feminist new voice in comics.
Originally published as a trilogy, this single volume contains all three books. Far from being heavy or hard to follow, I found it a pretty easy reading, and very enjoyable as well. I did get tired now and then, but it always kept my attention, not only because of the social messages, but also due to the immense work in the world-building.
This is the perfect definition of a well-crafted story by someone who gave their all for it. It’s easy to see the amount of work Deena Mohammed had to put in order to reach this level, cementing herself as a titanic voice in the Middle East about the issues in there, many of which are still present in today’s world in general.
As a result, the reading is a complete experience, a delight to the senses that gets better the deeper you get into this world. There were several plot twists that surprised me. Mohammed played a lot with the book’s mythology in order to keep it interesting, but it’s the underlining messages that give it that special touch, the experiences of everyday life that we can’t escape from, the experiences we are (painfully) familiar with.
For someone who’s consumed a lot of American comics, Japanese mangas, and Korean manhwas, this was an amazing experience, different from everything I’ve encountered so far, and that keeps the essence of traditional Arab tales, such as the Arabian Nights, but stays interesting to modern, maybe even younger readers. I can’t recommend it enough, and I could keep going on and on about all the things I love about it, but I’d rather let you discover it for yourselves. You won’t be disappointed.