REVIEW: AYA DE YOPOUGON
By Nicolette Bethel
Monday, 15 December 2008.
Yes, yes, another coming of age novel. But I had to think about this one, because firstly it’s not All About Me, and secondly, it’s a graphic novel. It’s about three young women in the Côte d’Ivoire of the 1970s, three fairly ordinary young women in a working class neighbourhood of Yopougon, who are having the usual teenage girl-issues, like school and boys and what to do with what’s going on between their legs.
The book is called Aya, and that’s the main character — or rather the narrator — but as Aya’s a pretty dull person really - at least at this point in her life — she’s studying too hard to generate any real drama in her life. The story really focuses on the actions of her two friends Bintou and Adjoua.
The author is Marguerite Abouet, she was born in 1971 and was raised in the Ivory Coast. She moved to France in 1983 with her brother to live with an uncle in order to be educated in that country. She was working as a legal assistant in Romainville, a suburb of Paris, when she started writing books for young adults before penning this acclaimed graphic novel series Aya de Yopougon. In 2006, 'Aya de Yopougon' was declared best comic book of the year at the festival of Angoulême.
All the reviews about this book, as well as the preface, make a point of talking about the ordinariness of the story, the lack of violence and abjectness in the background, the total unAfricanness of the story - because nobody dies, no government topples, and nobody starves.
To do the same thing would justify that stance and underline the idea that what happens in Africa must be very, very bad. Everyone makes the point of saying that Côte d’Ivoire was an exemplary African nation in the 1970s, rather the way Alexander McCall Smith keeps reminding us that Botswana is an exemplary African nation in the 2000s.
It’s the postcolonial version of the Dark Continent myth. I don’t buy it, so I won’t say it. But for people expecting fireworks and drama in this graphic novel, and who approach it the way they might approach, say, Speigelman’s Maus, forget it. Think Archie, Betty and Veronica — only all grown up.
Nicolette Bethel is a Bahamian literary writer, editor, blogger and academic. She holds a PhD and MPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a BA in English Literature from the University of Toronto.
She left academia to assume the position of Director of Cultural Affairs for the Bahamas Government, but continues to teach part-time. She also writes a weekly column for the Nassau Guardian.
You will find articles by her here.
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