tThree bottles sit in a padded box behind instant noodles and cold drinks on display at Shoukry Cairo’s stall, their ornate text and original stamp — “1954, Italy” — suggesting something special. These are “first-class” desires, the best that money can buy, capable of curing disease, creating great fortunes or bringing dinosaurs back to life. So why hasn’t anyone bought it yet?
The buzz around Dina Mohamed has been building since 2013 when, at the age of 18, she began posting a gritty, hilarious comedy video online called Qahera about a “veiled superhero” who clashes with everyone from hypocritical adults to Western feminists. Her ambitious graphic novel debut would raise her stock. Published in Egypt in three volumes between 2017 and 2021, it was translated and collected by Mohamed herself in a chunky hardcover in English. Read from right to left like the original Arabic text, this compelling urban fantasy sees three ordinary employees of a shukri kiosk grappling with the implications of their desire.
In this world, magical wishes have existed for centuries. Logically, Muhammad does not delve into their actions, but instead explores the transformations they provide and the history written by the powerful – as might be expected. At first, even in “desire-rich” regions such as North Africa and the Middle East, the use of wishes was limited. Then the empires of Europe came up with a way to extract it, manage it and store it in bottles. Today, corporations, governments, and wealthy citizens monopolize best wishes for everything from defense projects to flying Porsches, leaving “third-rate” wishes to the general public.
It’s a mixed blessing. In the opening pages, a young man named Abdou repeatedly wishes for a Mercedes, but only manages to conjure up parts from cars and small models before an oversized, streamlined car leaves him dead on the street. The Egyptian government is finally following in the European Union’s footsteps in banning third-tier wishes, and the argument over the legality of wishes at Shoukry’s kiosk — even though it’s the more efficient and reliable “first-class” — is making buyers think twice. Abdou’s widow, Aziza, wonders if a wish can heal her wounds. Depressed student Nour searches for a way to escape the “unbearable weight” of each day, but he suspects it can be found in a bottle. Shukri is considered a good deed that may rid him of his troublesome desires, and help someone else in the process.
Most stories about wishing focus on what happens next – fortune won and unexpected side effects. But Muhammad is more concerned with what comes before that: doubting how to formulate a wish, whether it is forbidden (forbidden) What would be lost if it was granted. Your Wish Is My Command offers both drama and introspection as Aziza negotiates grief and bullying officials, Nour breaks out of his darkened emotions and Shukri tries to keep his business going, while slowly revealing the secret of the bottles’ origin.
Mohamed’s artwork bursts with vitality: crisp monochrome images of prison dot the brightly lit street corners, cheerful scenes of comedy sit next to charts expressing Nour’s sentiments, while the bustling backstreets and affluent suburbs of Cairo are brimming with romance and love. Shukri’s booth shimmers like a jewel under the streetlights, while wishes pop out of their bottles in an abstract tangle of ribbons and print. Mohamed gives poignant nods to city life as it progresses, presenting local pastries, etiquette and street slang in a book that blends the anecdote-like cosmopolitanism with lively locations.
At times it feels a bit cramped – juxtaposed with narratives of oppression, college life, depression, faith and imperialism, violence and friendship, Your Wish Is My Command delivers bits of world-building through excerpts from Noor’s lecture course on “wishes and philosophies” and referencebook-style details to make wishes. However, while the book’s spell sometimes breaks down, it’s not long before you’re drawn to a sharp note, an exuberant painting, or a talking donkey. This tale of impulse and magic teeters with ideas, yet treats its brilliant subject matter with deftness and its characters with care. Care. It is an auspicious start as you wish.