Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 132

Aya: Life In Yop City / Aya: Love In Yop City

by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie, tralation by Helge Dascher
Genre: day-in-life, historical fiction, Africa
384 pages each
ISBN: 1770460829 (Amazon) / 1770460926 (Amazon)

Aya is one of the coolest things. Taking place in Yopougon (colloquially known as Yop City), a suburb of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, tells more than the story of Aya and her friends, acquaintances, rivals, and relations. On top of that, it unveils a culture unique to a 20 year period and now lost to that era in history.

Between 1960 and 1980, Côte d’Ivoire thrived economically in a way that other newly independent African nations did not. Rather than drive out European populations and influences, those ties were welcomed and strengthened—and the wealth and assistance of France helped the economy boom in particular ways.

Aya exists in the US as two volumes, each containing three of the original graphic albums in which the series originally appeared. Aya is about 20 years old, single, beautiful, wise, naive, and soberminded. This story features Aya, yes—but they also tell the stories of Bintou and Adjoua and Hervé and Moussa and Félicité and Mamadou and Innocent and Gregoire and their families and more. It's a multi-multi-threaded narrative that's rambunctious and cacophonic and really is a blast to read.

The book is filled with people making bad but very human decisions, the kinds you or I make and have made regularly through our lives. It's also filled with proverbs. One of the idiosyncracies of life in Cote d'Ivoire is that every is constantly using old proverbs to make points, comfort the abused, and perpetrate savage burns. And everybody nods in understanding as if the speaker just QEDed the whole thing and shut it down. (And it's very amusing when one of the cast goes to France and does the same thing and these poor French people have no idea what's going on.)

While the storylines of Aya can get pretty serious (a guy basically selling his daughter into marriage, coming out of the closet in a culture where that would be dangerous, fake faith healers, rape and sexual assault, adultery, adultery, and more adultery, etc) the wit and barbs and lunacy keep the spirit pretty light-hearted.

One last thing I love about this series is that it doesn't preach or go in for didacticism. It 1) knows that people are people and will do good and bad things, often on the turn of a dime, and 2) presumes the reader intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions. So, for example, when Bintou comments on the rapist's poor looks wonders what gives the him the right to rape so many girls and then comments that "handsome helps," citing a girl who was raped by a cousin and made the best of it, Aya's response of "That's terrible!" is more focused on Bintou (who runs an advice/counseling business) betraying a confidence than on the woman's opinions about rapists (and we already know that Aya doesn't agree with her). It's just one example of hundreds in the book of normal people holding wonky opinions, just like in real life. In a period where a lot of our fiction reads as pedagogy, it's kind of refreshing to run into something that doesn't pull a GI Joe where "knowing is half the battle."

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