The Librarian Is In: ‘Cairo’


Cairo, by G. Willow Wilson

I didn’t really like this work. What I liked most was the author’s story. G. Willow Wilson, better known for writing Ms. Marvel (Browsing Graphic — Davis Family Library PN6728.M766 W55 2014 v.1), left the United States and converted to Islam while heading to Egypt. I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s a pretty rare occurrence. So that drew me in. One of my librarian buddies told me that he was involved in having this author guest-speak at his university, so I was curious to find out more about a white American woman who had created a brown, Muslim superheroine. Maybe I should have started with that work.

In a nutshell, this graphic novel follows a host of characters as they make their way through a mystical Cairo: A drug smuggler, a journalist, an Israeli soldier, a jinn (genie) and some sort of criminal underlord are all interested in controlling the fate of the magical powers contained in a shisha pipe. The storyline is weak and does little to get the reader invested in the struggle. The work tries to blend religious wisdom from the Koran into a fantastic tale of violence, adventure and pyramids. Ultimately, I don’t think the work is very successful in creating characters that readers care about or in making readers emotionally engaged in their future. What it does do, however, is paint Cairo as a land of both yesterday and today. You see camels alongside guns. You graze past loaded comments referencing political tensions between Middle Eastern Arabs and Israelis. You encounter references to a holy text and a modern journalist’s struggle to access relevance in his work. With so many competing agendas, it is no wonder that the work comes off as a bit incoherent and distracted from its own trajectory.

I’d recommend this work to people who like James Bond films and/or Indiana Jones, as they will be transported to a new land with topical suggestions of cursory foreignness without having to access much depth. For a similar work, see “Habibi” (Browsing Graphic — Davis Family Library PN6727.T48 H33 2011) by Craig Thompson or the oeuvre that is Hergé’s “Tintin.” At some point, both attempt to capture the essence of the Middle East and other lands filtered through the eyes of a Westerner. While Wilson likely does the most expansive job, underscoring points of otherness for a Western audience is frequently the Western writer’s goal, one that may create more distance, exoticism and tropes of orientalism.

‘Cairo’ by G. Willow Wilson, 2007

160 pages

Call Number: Browsing Graphic — Davis Family PN6727.W53 C35 2007 

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