Required Reading: Aya de Yopougon

Aya of Yopougon

There are no happy endings in Marguerite Abouet's graphic novel Aya of Yopougon, and that's fine. 

Set in "Yop City," Cote d'Ivoire, and centered on a young woman named Aya, the comic book seems ready to follow Aya's battle to become a doctor (likely villainous obstacles: money problems, distracting friends, and a father who thinks marriage is more appropriate than medicine). Aya is awesome: She has witty retorts for street harassment. She's wise and also kind, dispensing good advice to all her neighbors and still finding the time to braid her sister's hair. She is beautiful. She doesn't go parking with boys. She's your typical 20th century Disney heroine: intelligence and ambition balanced with incredible sex appeal, which is balanced with virginal purity. Progressive, but not transgressive.

That's why the real action isn't with Aya de Yopougon, but with Aya's flawed friends Bintou and Adjoua, who go out like normal people and are destined for what Aya despairingly calls "Series C": hairdressing, dressmaking and husband-chasing. Adjoua wears short dresses under longer ones just in case there's a party. Bintou plots to trap a husband. Both dance, have regrettable sex with men in public, fight with each other and lie to their parents, until the plot is a hot mess of cars, money, and clubs with names like, "It's Gonna Get Hot." 

They're not Disney, they're not role models, and they're great. They're savvy, confident girls who don't wait agonizedly for a phone call or smile shyly before ducking behind a tree. These secondary characters aren't exceptionally intelligent or imrobably brave like Aya, so they negotiate the cultural imperatives of looking nice, getting married, and making a living as best, and with as much fun, as they can. Their stories are bare, emotionally unadorned, because they are recounted from Aya's distance, and the result is a calm, funny story of love triangles, quadrangles and hexagons which expose the bargaining that underpins contemporary "romance." 

Marguerite Abouet sketches the Africa of her childhood with a light touch, far from the sensational newspaper amalgam of famine, fun and coups d'etat. "L'Afrique, ce n'est pas seulement ça," Anna Gavalda writes in the introduction. The illustrations of the Cote d'Ivoire are awesome. Things do not end happily ever after. These qualities alone are probably enough to recommend the book. Any remaining questions may be answered by the tongue-in-cheek "Ivoirien Bonus" appendix, which explains, among other things, how to wrap a pagne and how to make peanut sauce (Abouet calls it aller-retour or "roundtrip" because "once you try it, you come back to ask for more")

Disclaimer: Aya of Yopougon is the first in a six-volume series of graphic novels about Aya, so the title character probably has a lot of development and depth to reveal. If you read #2 through #6, let me know.

Previously: The House on Mango Street, Cruel Optimism

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Comments

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Great series!!

Aya de Yop is a great set of graphic novels that do a great job of showing a bit of the day-to-day life in west africa! As a reader in nearby Burkina Faso, reading for the sheer joy of seeing expressions and phrases I hear everyday is enough to keep me coming back. Add on the great narrative and the subtle social commentary in a context that still is very realistic and I'm hooked!

I've only read issues 1-3 thus far, but own up until issue 5 and you'll be happy to know that in issue three, it comes out that two of the characters are gay. I think it's handled very well, especially considering the frigid and often violent sentiment towards homosexuality in this part of the world (a possible reason that this subject doesn't come up sooner - I think it might make the series less realistic if the issue were more emphasized).

If more "send books to Africa" campaigns just sent money so that these books could be bought and put in existing libraries here - the literate youth would be very happy (and possibly more enlightened) campers!

In fact, for any that are interested, the organization "Friends of African Village Libraries" (www.favl.org) is trying to put the set of these graphic novels in each of the 12 libraries they helped establish in Burkina Faso!

Great series!! (cont.)

Actually: the specific project funding putting the Aya series in the libraries in Burkina Faso can be found here:

http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/provide-a-village-library-with-aya-...

Should be required reading for those who live here too, right?

Aya de Yopougon

This "graphic novel Aya of Yopougon " - is very non standard for us to read but very creative and interesting to see as graphics there is wonderful, good pictures and good artist work.

Aya in English coming soon!

I just wanted to let any enthusiasts of this series that it's coming out soon in English!

Here's the information on that:
http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/shopCatalogLong.php?st=art&art=a4511616...

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