Creator: Deena Mohamed
Publication Date: January 10, 2023
Through impeccably-crafted fantasy, Shubeik Lubeik shows us the nature of humanity. This superb graphic novel by Egyptian creator Deena Mohamed — set in a magical Cairo where wishes can be literally bought and sold — is already number one on my list of 2023 graphic novels, and will be hard to displace. Its title means “your wish is my command” in Arabic.
A captivating world
In Shubeik Lubeik, wishes of varying classes (each obeying their own strict rules) are sold in containers and regulated through complex legal structures. To my delight, the book even contains wish infographics showcasing the impact of wishes on history, “data,” and sly humor.
Within this richly imagined world, we are immersed in three tales. Aziza is accustomed to a life of relative poverty, but when she loses her husband, she manages to earn enough for a coveted first-class wish, only to clash with bureaucracy. Nour is a well-off college student who faces depression and wonders whether (and how) a wish would solve their challenges. Shokry, a pious man, struggles with what his religion says about wishes versus his compulsion to help a friend.
Admittedly, I came into this story knowing little about Egyptian culture or society, but felt like I got a taste of many different facets here. The three tales grapple with diverse societal themes, like corrupt authority, mental health, and religious interpretations of right action.
Mohamed builds up a lot of character for each of the protagonists. She gives them enough depth that we understand what makes them tick and we sympathize with their struggles.
Strong stylistic choices
In Mohamed’s capable hands, Shubeik Lubeik also has the perfect dance of story and art. She knows how to make a scene ironic by drawing a visual contrast to the words, and when to express a point without any words at all. Scenes are detailed yet iconic, and highly expressive whether in an urban or rural setting.
Characters look consistent (even as they age) and feel alive! Abstract art and schematics pop up at the perfect moments. There are occasional color spreads, but the majority of the book is a rich black and white, semi-realistic style, one of my personal favorite types.
Mohamed not only wrote and drew the book, but also translated and adapted this English release out of the original Arabic (first published as a trilogy starting in 2017). She expanded the role of the narrator to contextualize some cultural elements for non-Egyptian readers. I saw only one clue that it was translated: when you read, you need to start at the rightmost panel and then flow left. It’s an easy adjustment once you are aware, and the written English itself is flawless.
This is an epic work, nuanced and polished, never clichéd. Every tale moved me. But I also found myself laughing a lot. It’s witty and smart.
More fable-like possibilities feel like they could burst out from the edges of the page. I don’t want to give too much away, because I think you will really enjoy the discovery. I will say the tales provide no easy answers, yet very satisfying resolutions.
What would you do with a wish? What would society do? Psst… the wishes are metaphors. Mohamed manages to convey the best kind of magic, the kind that has a human weight. We get fascinating looks at past and modern Egypt, even commentary on international relations. We see the impact of wishes on those of different income levels and how their usage varies. The tales also examine themes like oppression, the roles of women, and the impact of family.
I really can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in years, and I read a lot of graphic novels. It’s long for a graphic novel—it is, after all, a trilogy in one volume—but a gripping read, I promise you. I suspect I’ll be haunted by Shubeik Lubeik for a long time. Go get it. Right now.
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