Shubeik Lubeik

Pantheon. Jan. 2023. 528p. tr. from Arabic by Deena Mohamed. ISBN 9781524748418. $35. FANTASY
DEBUT Originally published in Arabic in Egypt, this debut graphic novel depicts a world in which genie wishes are mined, bottled, and sold. There are first-, second-, and third-class wishes, with first-class being the most powerful and expensive while third-class wishes can only grant minor wishes and are often dangerous: for example, wishing to lose weight could result in losing a limb. The novel follows the stories of Aziza, Nour, and Shokry, all profoundly affected by the set of first-class wishes that Shokry has inherited and is trying to get rid of. By turns funny and wrenching, Mohamed writes clever prose and fills the pages with expressive images, uniquely conveying the overwhelmingness of depression in Nour’s graphs or Shokry’s sadness as his heart drops out of his chest. Some framing stories and “intermissions,” which offer fascinating guides to wishes, are in color while the majority of the novel is in striking black and white. In addition to the compelling personal stories, Mohamed weaves in commentary on colonialism, religion, and ethics, but she also regularly intersperses doses of humor.
VERDICT A must-read modern folktale set in an alternate world where wishes come true, but not always as expected.
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