cover image Shubeik Lubeik

Shubeik Lubeik

Deena Mohamed. Pantheon, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-1-524748-41-8

Mohamed (the Qahera webcomic) unspools the complexities—emotional, financial, logistical—that arise when magic meets corporate corruption and bureaucracy, in this splendid graphic novel. A cast representing diverse class backgrounds navigates a fantasy version of Cairo, where wishes are real and are released only for those who can pay their fees. Three characters attempt to change their lives when discounted wishes are on offer at a local kiosk, but their attempts get thwarted in telling ways. In the opening story, impoverished Aziza recently lost her husband, yet manages to save up for a first-class wish. A regulatory agency blocks her from fulfilment; sometimes “what stands between you and your wish could be a government employee with paperwork.” The second piece peers into the internal struggle of Nour, an upper-class student felled by depression; sometimes what blocks a wish is indecision and simply “getting out of bed.” Finally, in the most powerful entry, “nothing at all” stands in the way of a wish offered by the kiosk vendor to his friend, an old Christian woman, in a parable about finding transcendence by accepting limitations. Lithe, brushy black-and-white art is broken with color pages of infographic-style interludes. The volume is designed to be read right to left, in the Arabic style. This grand fairy tale announces Mohamed as a promising new voice amid a renaissance of contemporary Middle Eastern cartoonists. Agent: Anjali Singh, Ayesha Pande Literary (Jan.)