Off the Shelf: Cairo

CairoCairo by G. Willow Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up Cairo mainly because I was curious about the author: my best friend had read Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal & The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam and I had heard a few interviews with Wilson herself about various topics. I was pleasantly surprised by Wilson’s interweaving stories about 6 strangers drawn together in Cairo & how their actions change the city around them.

Shaheed, a disaffected Muslim-American boy, meets Shams, a jinn, after his flight to Beirut is canceled and strands him in Cairo. Shams asks for Shaheed’s help in completing a quest to save a mysterious box. Constellating the pair are Kate, an American from Orange County, & Ali, an Egyptian journalist, who are both looking for more than what their upbringings offer them. Rounding out the group are Tova, a disillusioned Israeli soldier, and Ashraf, an Egyptian smuggler, who are tired of the choices they make just to get by in their daily life. All of them have their part to play in keeping the box from the sinister Nar, a powerful figure in the underworld.

Wilson’s story moves fluidly, highlighting the contrasting personalities of her six characters, frequently dividing them & reuniting them. The middle section of the story is especially moving, forcing each character to face their struggle and forcing them to overcome it. Kate & Ali’s conflict in the Undernile especially struck a note with me, not simply because it expressed the despair & frustration anyone could face in a seemingly indifferent world. Their section demonstrated how powerful simple, genuine compassion can be. There were many moments in the story that brought tears to my eyes. M.K. Parker’s detailed, evocative drawings also helped land the emotional punches. Cairo is a dynamic story that mixes traditional & modern folklore & recalls a pure sense of loyalty & helping others that recalls Silver Age superhero comics–the difference being that Wilson’s comic suggests those heroes can be found in the people around us.

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