Excerpt from Lena Merhej’s comic hit Mrabba wa Laban
This is an excerpt from Mrabba wa Laban, the Arabic graphic novel by Lena Merhej, translated by Nadiyah Abdullatif and Anam Zafar. Unlike many stories of migration, the graphic novel recounts Merhej’s mother’s journey from West to East, and how as a German, she adapted to life in Lebanon. The humor in this extract stems largely from comparing stereotypes of Western and Arab women, as Lena’s childhood self tries to understand where her mother falls on the scale, and as the reader learns how her mother tried to avoid being recognized as a foreigner to avoid trouble.
Mrabba wa Laban was one of the first graphic novels to have appeared in Arabic and has been published in French, Spanish and Italian, though not yet in English.
The trope of the overbearing, over-organized mother appears, with the military-style poses of the children humorously conveying the strict delegation of chores, and later when Lena narrates how her mother sometimes calls her children very early in the morning when she miscalculates the time difference. The last two pages of the extract are a poignant representation of the mixing of cultures in the author’s family, represented by the familiar humor of the fatigue associated with always eating the same dishes.
Lena Merhej was born in 1977 in Beirut to a Lebanese father and German mother. She is the founder of the Story Centre in Beirut, was the director of the Beirut Animated Festival, and has taught illustration and animation at universities in Beirut. Mrabba wa Laban and her comic book Kamen Sine (2009), received the Award for Best Comic at FIBDA (International Comic Strip Festival of Algiers).