A mature—in all its meanings—glimpse into a world few Westerners are at home with, and Thompson is respectful throughout.

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HABIBI

Thompson (Good-Bye, Chunky Rice, 2006, etc.) returns after a five-year absence with a graphic novel that is sure to attract attention—and perhaps even controversy.

Slavery exists in the modern world as much as in the ancient. As Thompson’s long, carefully drawn narrative opens, we are in a time that seems faraway, even mythical: A 9-year-old girl is married off to a scribe who introduces her not just to sex but also to the mysteries of Arabic letters, which seem to take life on the page. “When God created the letters,” Thompson writes, “He kept their secrets for Himself”—though he shared them with Adam while keeping them from the angels, a source of considerable friction in the Muslim heaven. The scribe is killed, the young girl kidnapped, and from there the story opens into a world that might well have come from the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights, if, that is, industrial machinery and the teeming ports of the Arabian peninsula are introduced into the backdrop. Dodola and Zam are two children, one Semitic, one black African, who brave a hostile world, taking up residence in a ship marooned in the desert sands, selling what they have and can in order to survive. As they grow older, they find themselves feeling things that are not quite appropriate for the siblings they seem to have become, and now their paths part, destined to cross again as sure as the letters loop over one another. Thompson draws on elements of classical Arabic mythology and, a touch dangerously, Islamic belief; he also takes the opportunity to address modern issues of ethnic tension, racism, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the clash of civilizations, sexism and other modern concerns. Though in the form of a comic book, Thompson’s story is decidedly not for youngsters: Rape and murder figure in these pages, as does sex between minors.

A mature—in all its meanings—glimpse into a world few Westerners are at home with, and Thompson is respectful throughout.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42414-4

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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