Monday, February 18, 2013

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie

If you've read about the Côte d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, in the past twenty years, it was likely a story about political and economic turmoil. In fact, wars, famines, and epidemic disease tend to be the only stories about Africa we see reported. Marguerite Abouet objected to this one-dimensional portrayal, and was inspired to write Aya: Life in Yop City.

The setting is the late 1970s, during a period of economic prosperity following Ivory Coast's independence from France in 1960. Yop City is a local nickname for Yopougon, a middle-class suburb of the capital city, Abidjan. The story itself is very character-driven, centered around the lives and loves of three teenaged girls, Aya, Adjoua, and Bintou, and their families.

This is the world of Abouet's childhood; she was born in Abidjan and her family lived in Yopougon. When she was 12, her family moved to France, where she still lives today. Aya is her first published work, and I'm far from the only person to think it's wonderful. The series has been nominated for numerous awards, and won the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for First Comic Book in 2006 (think a much larger Comic-Con).

I'm not quite sure what caused me to pick this book up in the first place. I suspect it was a review I read somewhere, but I know the gorgeous orange dress on the cover was a major factor in my checking this book out. In fact, the hardest part of writing this review is resisting the urge to just page through admiring the beautiful art. The characters are expressive and distinctive, but its the color that really brings everything to life.

Marguerite Abouet's partner Clément Oubrerie is the illustrator, and his background as an animator is evident in the characters' poses and the way the camera moves around a scene.  Not having read the original French, I can't say much about Helge Dascher's translation except that it doesn't read like a translation.

And if nothing else, I can highly recommend checking out the bonus section at the end. Beyond an author interview and glossary of Ivorian terms, there are cultural notes, recipes, and fashion advice given by the characters themselves! This is definitely a book that I'll be adding to my own personal collection.

~Sarah, Adult Services

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