Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Guest Post: Cairo a graphic novel by G. Willow Wilson

Cairo: a graphic novel.
Written by G. Willow Wilson, Art by M.K. Perker.
(c) 2007
ISBN: 9781401211400

Book Jacket Summary: A stolen hookah, a spiritual underworld, and a genie on the run change the lives of five strangers forever in this modern fable set on the streets of the Middle East's largest metropolis. Cairo interweaves the fates of a drug runner, a down-on-his-luck journalist, an American expatriate, a troubled young student, and an Israeli soldier as they race through bustling present-day Cairo to find an artifact of unimaginable power, one protected by a dignified Jinn and sought by a wrathful gangster-magician. But the vastness of Africa's legendary City of Victory extends into spiritual realms – The Undernile – and even darker powers lurk there...
(This graphic novel is suggested for mature readers.)

My Thoughts: This is one of my personal favorite graphic novels. I have a weakness for magical realism, and also for sarcastic dialogue. The characters in the story are well-rounded, for all that they are also archetypes deliberately chosen to get across a point. The story itself is intense and deep enough to change the way you think, but just silly enough that you don't have to take it seriously if you don't want to do so. After all, it is a story about a genie who lives in a hookah.

My enjoyment of a graphic novel usually hinges upon the art style, almost more so than the quality of the story itself. With Cairo, I found that the art fit the story perfectly. My graphic novel sensibilities were raised on a steady diet of Japanese manga, so I tend to prefer drawing styles with a heavy Asian influence. The art in this book... does not have that. It isn't pretty all the time, but I would definitely call it beautiful. The story has several unsavory characters in it that the artist depicts in all their unpleasantness; but there is a certain beauty to that, as there is to Cairo itself for all the city's potential unpleasantness.

While very Eastern in setting and philosophy, this story is also very much a combination of East and West. One of the things I really enjoy about it is the way the story brings together a group of people from vastly different upbringings, and with vastly different goals, and shows them how to set aside the mechanics we often go through when presenting to the world what we think we want, and instead pursue what it is they truly desire. It's hard to talk about what I like about the story without giving away plot, but in a way it's all very Star Wars; there's the snarky drug runner who falls in love with the most inappropriate girl, and the idealistic kid who finds a path to a power he didn't know he had within him, and the determined freedom fighter who refuses to let his people be subject to an oppressive dictatorship without fighting for them in the only way he knows how.

The main theme of this graphic novel is finding one's path. The story is suffused with hope: that the characters in their individuality can find where they are supposed to be, and that in doing so they can contribute to their country, the region as a whole, the ability for every person to find their own path. It's a fable, combining the fantastic elements of magical realism with the grittiness of reality. When this graphic novel was written, Egypt was still under the longtime rule of an authoritarian despot. At the time I write this review, Egypt's people are protesting the military coup d'etat of the country's first democratically elected president. The journey toward establishing a stable democratic government is one that will be filled with setbacks, with blood and with pain, but it is a journey that every country and every person deserves the chance to make. The hope this story reflects is the desire of all people to be able to determine their own destinies, and I think that even with the recent changes in the world this story continues to work well as a modern fable of an ancient culture, with a powerful truth at its core.


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