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Aya vol 1: Life In Yop City s/c

Aya vol 1: Life In Yop City s/c back

Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie


Page 45 Review by Stephen

An enormously fun and spirited fiction, this Anglouême 2006 winner tells of 1970s life on the Ivory Coast, "an Africa we rarely see – spirited, hopefully and resilient".

Aya, 19, is studious and clear-sighted, with easy-going friends. Shame about the meddling relatives and neighbours.

For example, when not only is a baby boy's paternity questioned but his maternity also, it leads to awkward bluffs and a quick return visit from the city to the family's village in order to take photographs to show some family likeness. There aren't any.

The thing is it is Adjoua's baby boy (Bobby, named after Bobby Ewing - "I want him to be as kind as the one in Dallas"!), but it isn't Moussa's… which is a shame because Moussa's parents are swimming-pool rich. But when Adjoua's father, Hyacinte, continues to scramble round town frantically trying to find anyone resembling Bobby and claim him as a relative, he accidentally finds an almost identical match. Unsurprising since it's the real Dad – but not the match he was hoping for!

This is charming on every level. Abouet neither patronises nor white-washes her cast: African men can be as unfaithful and manipulative (and women as gullible) as European and American men, but they can also have a heart of gold like Herv, a young man so skilled as a mechanic that the garage's ailing owner wants to make him a business partner, if only he can learn to count and write. Also: African boys can have haircuts that enrage their fathers too!

Marguerite here makes a conscious effort to celebrate her native country's people, their customs and kindnesses – particularly when it comes to the extended family of friends and neighbours who share the burden of nurturing children – whilst clearly showing the human traits and tendencies that we all have in common. It's a thriving city too, not a dessert of famine and disease and gunmen out of control. It's populated by roadside traders and the affluent middle class, and under Oubrerie's crisp and detailed line it is both bright and beautiful with the most vibrant of colours, whilst his expressive cartooning lends the proceedings a comedic joy.

The dialogue is full of inflexions and exclamatory expressions delightfully different after reading thousands and thousands of comics set in America, Europe and Japan, and I thoroughly recommend a quick skim of the one-page glossary before proceeding so that you understand the wider social significance of words like "Tantie" and "Tonton", which are indeed informal words for "Auntie" and "Uncle" but also "used to show respect or affection when talking to an older woman or man".

There's far more going on than that single strand involving Bobby and Adjoua – oh, there are secrets galore! – and, while this edition contains all three previously translated books, Drawn & Quarterly have promised a further bumper volume translating the fourth, fifth and six French stories for the very first time.