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the Complete Review
the complete review - comic

Shubeik Lubeik
(Your Wish Is My Command)

Deena Mohamed

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To purchase Shubeik Lubeik

Title: Shubeik Lubeik
Author: Deena Mohamed
Genre: Comic
Written: 2017/19/21 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 515 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Shubeik Lubeik - US
Your Wish Is My Command - UK
Shubeik Lubeik - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Arabic title: شبيك لبيك
  • US title: Shubeik Lubeik
  • US title: Your Wish Is My Command
  • Translated by the author
  • The Arabic original was first published in three volumes, in 2017, 2019, and 2021

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Our Assessment:

B : solid variation of the 'three wishes'-type story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 28/1/2023 James Smart
TLS . 19/5/2023 Paul Gravett
The Washington Post . 19/1/2023 Jonathan Guyer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mohamed’s artwork bursts with energy throughout: stark monochrome images of incarceration rub up against bright street corners, beaming scenes of comedy sit next to diagrams charting Nour’s emotions, while Cairo’s cramped backstreets and affluent suburbs are rendered with grit and love. Shokry’s stall gleams like a jewel under the streetlights, while the wishes emerge from their bottles in an abstract tangle of ribbons and typography. Mohamed gives evocative nods to city life as she goes, introducing local pastries, etiquette and street slang in a book that mixes fable-like universality with vivid locations. At times it feels a little overstuffed (.....) This tale of motivations and magic fizzes with ideas, but treats its fantastic subject with subtlety and its characters with thoughtful care." - James Smart, The Guardian

  • "(A) thoroughly modern fable concerning the private and social impact of the commercialization of desire. (...) At the heart of this compelling and eye-catching magic realist tale is one of Cairo’s multipurpose street kiosks, of the sort that sell cigarettes, fizzy drinks and other cheap essentials." - Paul Gravett, Times Literary Supplement

  • "At more than 500 pages, it’s an ambitious feat of storytelling and a historic accomplishment for Arab comic artists. No page is boring." - Jonathan Guyer, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Shubeik Lubeik -- so the US title; it is published in the UK as Your Wish Is My Command ... -- is set in a contemporary Egypt much like the real one -- not least with its bureaucracy -- but with one major difference: Mohamed's world is one in which wishes, like those a genie might grant, exist. Not only do they exist, but since 1893, when a British scientist discovered "a procedure to store and control wishes inside a hollow physical object" (like a bottle) they are a commercial and government-regulated product.
       There are five classes of wishes -- whereby the highest two, the "X-class and the rumored infinity class, are restricted to entities such as the United Nations and used primarily for global catastrophes". That leaves three classes of wishes for the general population -- though in 2014 the European Union banned the trade in the most affordable, third-class wishes: "Due to the high number of accidents and mutilations" their use caused, and Egypt follows suit.
       The base for the story in Shubeik Lubeik is a kiosk run by a man named Shokry. He's never sold third-class wishes -- also known as 'delesseps' -- but, along with the kiosk, he did inherit a case with three first-class wishes, bottled like fancy wine. However, he's never been able to sell them -- not least, because a kiosk seems an unlikely place to be able to buy such a luxury good. The three-part novel then follows the fate of the three bottles, as he finally manages to sell the first two and then tries his best to unload the third one.
       Mohamed has some fun with what goes wrong with the third-class wishes -- which do grant what is wished for, but just generally not exactly in the form the wisher probably had in mind. A Public Service Announcement at the beginning of the novel warning of their dangers makes the point amusingly well with the example of a woman who wants to lose some weight: the wish instantly has her drop ten kilos -- but certainly not the ones she wanted to.
       The first first-class wish is sold to Aziza. Poor and illiterate, she works for nearly four years to save up the money the wish costs -- and then faces a bureaucracy that tries to break her, including locking her up for many years without charging her, trying to pressure her into transferring ownership of the wish to the state. It is years before she is free and can open her bottle and make her wish.
       The second first-class wish is sold to depressed student Nour, whose family lives in reasonable comfort. (They have a neighbor who can easily afford first-class wishes -- and has used them to get two pet dinosaurs and a flying Porsche.) Once Nour has the bottle, she struggles with what exactly to wish for, torn apart by the possibilities -- to the extent that she even considers returning it.
       Finally, Shokry has to figure out what to do with the third bottle -- recalling that his father, who had left them to him, had begged him never to use them, indeed told him: "Nobody should ever use those wishes". While Shokry, supporting a large, extended family, could have used the boost the wishes might have given over the years, he was never too tempted, and has found all the success and happiness he needs without their help. Learning one of his old customers, whom he calls Hagga, has cancer, he's tempted to give her the last wish, so she can be cured -- but she emphatically refuses to let it be used for her. Much of this final story then is about her and her life -- with Shokry learning that she already once had a first-class wish, and how that was then used.
       Shubeik Lubeik neatly offers glimpses of a variety of Egyptian lives with its characters from different classes and circumstances, from poor Aziza to Nour and her typical late-teen/young-adulthood worries to Shokry and his large family to Hagga -- who turns out to be a Christian -- and her career and rich life. Along with the amusing examples in the background of what goes with wrong with the third-class wishes, the more dependable and powerful first-class ones also allow Mohamed to pose harder questions of her protagonists, about what really matters and what they really want. The wishes and the regulation of the market in them also allows her to illustrate power-dynamics, and how differently the poor and the privileged are treated -- as well as the role and power of the state in everyday life.
       The stories range quite widely -- more or less life-spanning, in several cases -- while especially Nour's and then also Shokry's debate about what to do with the final wish are very much in the moment, making for a busy, packed volume.
       Mohamed's drawings and their presentation -- often close-ups, often in rapid sequence, but also some of the large pages with just single simple images -- offer a wide and engaging variety. (Sections of the book are also in color, though most of the panels are black-and-white.) The book is also presented Arabic-style, back-to-front (as it were) and right-to-left. (It is also quite massive: at over five hundred pages and in fairly large format the hardcover is a heavy volume .....)
       The three volumes combined here also display a clear evolution, Mohamed willing and able to do more as the work progresses. The first is the barest, the story the most focused and simple. The second, even though also tightly focused on its protagonist, goes much deeper into her life and deliberations, while the third, covering two lives in depth, Shokry and Hagga's, is more panoramic in breadth (and also the longest). But they are all solid stories, and the humor helps as well, and it is all well-connected, making for an elaborate and quite entertaining variation on the usual 'three wishes'-story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 December 2023

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Shubeik Lubeik: Reviews: Deena Mohamed: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian comics artist Deena Mohamed (دينا محمد يحيى) was born in 1995.

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© 2023 the complete review

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