Surprising fun from CÃ´te dâ€™Ivoire
Have you read any books set in Côte d’Ivoire? I hadn't. There seems to be little written in English about this beautiful and interesting country, other than bleak news accounts of ongoing strife, economic hardship, poverty, and public health woes. However, two recently translated graphic novels show Ivorians in a different light-- depicting ordinary people who generally enjoy themselves, while dealing with the universal complications of everyday life (difficult relatives, office politics, friends who are making bad choices).
Author Marguerite Abouet and her husband, illustrator Clément Oubrerie have created a delicious domestic comedy in their graphic novels, Aya and Aya of Yop City (additional volumes have been released in France but are yet-to-be published in English). Abouet deliberately set out to write a book set in Africa that depicted both people and place in a positive way -- and she has done that spectacularly! Oubrerie's richly colored art, alive with expression and subtly detailed backgrounds, shares the storytelling faultlessly.
The books are set in a comfortable suburban neighborhood in Yopougon (Yop City), part of the metropolitan area of the coastal city, Abidjan. The time period is the late 1970s and Abidjan (the "Paris of West Africa") is prospering. The stories revolve around a young woman, Aya, and her family, friends and neighbors.
19-year-old Aya and her girlfriends are exploring who they are and what they want to be: serious Aya wants to continue her education and become a doctor, while her pals Bintou and Adjoua would rather be out dancing and chasing (and being pursued by) a tempting array of young men. One fateful evening encounter leaves Adjoua pregnant...and her father incensed.
A shot-gun wedding and an enormous reception soon follow. The first book, Aya, ends on a cliff-hanger, with everyone admiring Adjoua's handsome baby. The second book, Aya of Yop City, begins with the wealthy, imperious parents of goofy newlywed Moussa questioning whether he is truly the father of Adjoua's beautiful baby.
Social climbing and class struggles, generational conflicts, and all kinds of complicated relationships swirl though the books. There is a big cast of characters, but Oubrerie's lively and expressive artwork make each individual distinctive and easily identifiable. The second book ends with another bombshell -- the kind of situation that would shake up any family -- and will leave you happily anticipating the third volume.
The author and illustrator live in France, but Abouet is Ivorian-born and Oubrerie is a frequent visitor to the Côte d'Ivoire. Their smooth collaboration is a lot of fun to read, a frothy soap opera full of riotous color. In Aya and Aya of Yop City, Abouet and Ouberie offer an introduction to people and place that leave the reader eager to return.