Fiction — print. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher. Drawn and Quarterly, 2007. 105 pgs. Library copy.
Nineteen-year-old Aya lives in working-class city of Yopougon (also known as Yop City) of the Ivory Coast in 1978. Aya’s father works for Solibra, a beer company, and is determined to establish a match between the young son of his boss and his daughter.
As a studious young woman determined to become a doctor, Aya is neither interested in this match nor in the cousin of one of her closest friends. As such, much of the novel is devoted to the antics of Aya’s two closest friends, Adjoua and Bintou, who enjoy dancing, sneaking out to the tables in the city center known as the Thousand Star Hotel to meet boys, and generally having a good time.
Focusing on Aya’s friends and their lives rather than Aya herself seems like an odd choice given that Aya is the title character, and I’m curious to see if this changes in the subsequent volumes. But certainly focusing on Adjoua and Bintou helped the stress the differences between Aya and her friends. And as someone who grew up in a society where my female friends expected to go to college, get married, and become stay-at-home moms, I certainly connected with Aya and how different she is from her friends. And the street harassment Aya and her friends are subjected to repeatedly? What happens in Yop City also happens in Boston and other cities throughout America.
The color palette Oubrerie used to bring to life Abouet’s words beautifully brings to life the warmth of Yop City and the Ivory Coast. While some of the characters appeared rather cartoonist in appearance, I loved how Oubrerie focused on utilizing three colors — red, yellow and orange, or blue, green, and purple — for the panels of a certain chapter or page.
The two sections of this novel that should not be missed are the introduction and the glossary at the end. The glossary explains the slang interspersed throughout the story as well as the particular way Ivorian women dress. The discussion on how to roll a tassaba in order to make the men fall at your feet read like a humorous lesson being given by Adjoua and Bintou.
The introduction, which was written by an economist, discusses the setting of the novel — the Ivory Coast in the 1970s — and how the country was considered an example of how countries in Africa could develop. The spectacular economic growth the country experienced from the conversion of forests to cropland and from investments from French nationals in the country was dubbed the “Ivorian miracle” and explains why Abouet and Oubrerie’s novel does present a version of Africa that does not include lions, child soldiers, and AIDS. It’s such a refreshing view, and I am now wondering why this “miracle” was not discussed in my courses on economic development in university.