Graphic Novel: “Shubeik Lubeik” by Deena Mohamed
They used to be called comic books. Now they’re called “graphic novels.” Whatever the nomenclature, I love them. The good ones, like Deena Mohamed’s “Shubeik Lubeik”, are so well-constructed, they’d make a great film—something that might win an independent Spirit award.
“Shubeik”‘ is set in modern-day Cairo, but it’s not like the real-world Egyptian capital. Instead of gold, the precious currency in this whimsical Cairo is a wish—as in something a genie grants you after emerging from a bottle. Indeed, the title itself, translated from Arabic, means “your wish is my command.”
Wishes are so precious, they’re highly regulated. They are available in a can (that’s a third-class, less valuable wish) at the corner kiosk. Or if they’re first-class, they’re packaged in a fancy DOCG-type wine bottle. Once you own a wish, another problem arises: How do I spend it? And on whom?
The novel follows three ordinary Cairenes—Aziza, a lower-middle-class woman who is accused of acquiring her wish illegally; Nour, an upper-middle-class teenage girl afflicted by depression who’s bought a wish on sale but can’t decide what to do with it; and Shorky, the sixty-something owner of the wish kiosk who wants to use his last remaining wish to help Shawqia, a sickly old woman who doesn’t want his help.
Published in 2020, “Shubeik Lubeik” has been called the “most subversive book in decades, embodying the holy grail of comix-making.” Indeed the overall vibe and sly humor may remind you of the Fritz the Cat comics from the 1960s (except Mohamed’s cartooning and plotting are heaps better.)
Like books originally printed in Arabic or Hebrew, this graphic novel reads from back to front and right to left. But no matter how you get to the end, enjoy the ride.