Shubeik Lubeik Reviews 

“Shubeik Lubeik”

By | April 11th, 2023
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

If you could wish for anything in the world, what would you wish for? What if you knew it might backfire? Or if you had to save a year’s salary to buy the wish? These questions only scratch the surface of all the conundrums raised by “Shubeik Lubeik,” a brilliant debut graphic novel by Deena Mohamed.

Cover by Deena Mohamed
Written, Illustrated, and Translated into English by Deena Mohamed

Your wish is my command…

Using three interconnected stories, Mohamed shows us what the world might look like if wishing on a magic lamp was a part of everyday life.

Unlike Aladdin and other takes on the “Arabian Nights” tales, “Shubeik Lubeik” really digs into the details of wishing and wishes. There are three classes of wishes and they are regulated by the government. (Each country might regulate wishes a little differently, leading to thought-provoking but fun issues like wishing you could fly being banned in some countries and allowed in others.) Throughout the book, there are artifacts like pamphlets and other documents that help flesh out the world of wishes and wish regulation. If, like me, you’re a fan of fictional bureaucracies, you’ll get a kick out of the infographics that explain the history of wishes and what to do if you lose your wish.

Aziza buys a wish from a kiosk, run by a curmudgeonly shopkeeper named Shokry. He doesn’t want anything to do with the three wishes he owns, so he agrees to sell them. Aziza works hard to save up enough money to buy a first-class wish. (Low-quality wishes tend to backfire on the wisher, leading to shenanigans such as a talking donkey, or worse, like permanent disfigurement.) Before she can use her wish, however, Aziza gets caught up in government red tape and eventually imprisoned, all for trying to access the commodity she legally purchased. It’s a harrowing story of persistence on Aziza’s part, and a searing commentary on how people in poverty are kept from accessing wealth, even when they’ve earned it, due to corruption and society’s views on who is allowed to be rich. Aziza’s situation becomes a warning for others – wishes can be dangerous, even if you don’t get to use them.

Next up is Nour, a university student struggling with depression. Nour is isolated and lonely but struggles to communicate the severity of their problems with their friends. Even Nour’s parents don’t understand how bad Nour’s mental health issues are. But although this sounds dire, the section on Nour’s struggles is kept somewhat light in tone because of the way Nour documents their ups-and-downs. This part of the story is littered with graphs that show Nour’s progress. It’s a clever device that effectively shows how insidious depression can be on a long-term basis but also allows us to view Nour’s plight in a way that’s removed and almost clinical. Progress feels slow and invisible to everyone else except the person dealing with it. In the first story, Aziza struggled with poverty and couldn’t access her wish because she wasn’t rich. Although Nour is rich, they struggle with the idea of happiness and what it might mean to wish for it.

The thread that connects these two stories is Shokry, the shopkeeper who inherited the wishes from his father. Shokry’s story is the final one, although it’s intricately tied to the woman who convinced him to sell the wishes in the first place—a woman known to Shokry as Hagga. A devout Muslim, Shokry doesn’t believe that using wishes is appropriate. But when a person he cares for falls ill, he begins to question everything about the wish system and even his own beliefs. He struggles with big questions about the nature of goodness and intentions, trying to reconcile his own belief in self-determination with the ability to use wishes to do good in the world. As for Hagga, she has her own amazing story to tell.

The artwork is expressive and fluid, effortlessly conveying both humor and pathos throughout. Since the story was originally in Arabic, the English version is flipped and read from right to left. Translation notes help English readers understand common words and phrases used by the characters but also provide a sense of humor and playfulness. Mohamed excels at both intricate backgrounds and character close-ups. She does such a great job making her character’s facial expressions feel real — so many of them can be summed up as “that’s a big mood.”

“Shubeik Lubeik” is not only a fun set of three stories, but it’s also an incredibly smart look at the ways capitalism and corruption affect people’s daily lives. In the world of wishes, wealthy nations have largely reaped the benefits and profits of wishes, even though they are “mined” in poorer, developing countries. This leads to an unequal distribution of wishes and people who are forced from their homes due to wish mining. Religion is woven throughout the story as well, including a critique of the way that religious leaders who preached against wishes were backed by foreign nations in an effort to sway pious Muslims from using wishes to advance their own interests. Although these themes are ever present in the story, the characters still feel grounded and incredibly relatable as they try to figure out what they want and how much they’re willing to risk to get it.

Though this graphic novel is 528 pages, it doesn’t feel too long. And since there are three stories, you can easily read them in stages. I highly recommend picking up “Shubeik Lubeik” and giving it a try. It’s funny, smart, moving, and offers a window into some of the issues facing people living in Egypt today. Genie stories give us insight into what we desire as humans. These three stories really dig into how we deal with things like desire, faith, happiness, love, and grief in our daily lives. Would you wish for a Mercedes? Or happiness? Maybe more time? “Shubeik Lubeik” succeeds because it’s not just about what you wish for but also about what stands in the way of getting it.

Mel Lake