It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
Aya De Yopougon [Amazon | Book Depository]
Written by Marguerite Abouet Illustrated by Clement Oubrerie Translated from the French by Helge Dascher
Published by Gallimard Jeunesse (2005)
ISBN: 1894937902 (ISBN13: 9781894937900) Literary Award: Prix du Festival d’Angoulême for Prix du premier album (2006). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
Aya is a studious, no-nonsense young lady with a dream of becoming a medical doctor. This sets her apart from her other girlfriends who seem more intent on having fun, partying until dawn, and finding a boyfriend or a husband – score points if the guy happens to be rich.
While I know about the glorious beaches in the Ivory Coast, this is the first time that I am reading something from Abidjan, Youpogon specifically, described as a working class suburb in the country. The sense of place in this graphic novel can be keenly felt and experienced through the vivid art and the palpable joy that seems to emanate from the creation of credible and full-bodied characters.
The narrative also portrays a different face of Africa – far removed from the stereotypical images known to most readers. The image above demonstrates an example of the local bourgeoisie whose mansion resembles that of a mall, rather than a house. I especially appreciated the Preface written by Alicia Grace Chase, PhD. She has contextualized the history of Ivory Coast to readers who may not know that Côte d’Ivoire was one known as the “Paris of West Africa,” having been a French colony for nearly eight years and was “granted independence” only in 1960. How curious the choice of words – as if independence is something that can be benevolently awarded to the citizens of a country that had been vanquished and oppressed.
Back to Aya’s story. I was intrigued by how Aya skilfully manoeuvred her way around men who desire her: a few are harmless and ingratiating but dumb like Herve as portrayed above; while others are more nefarious and quite dangerous (see image below).
Reading it reminded me of what it was like for me as a young girl in the Philippines with the cat-calling, self-entitled thugs, immersed in a macho culture, who think women like that kind of unwanted attention.
I enjoyed slipping into Aya’s world and that of her friends every night – the simplicity of the lifestyle, the societal expectations of women and how Aya and her girlfriends managed to subvert them, and the dream for something more. Reading the last paragraph of Dr. Alisia Grace Chase’s preface was especially illuminating:
The last decade within the Ivory Coast has been dominated by a virulently Franco-phobic generation weaned not on the burgeoning potential of a newly independent nation, but on bloody coups and seemingly endless civil war. Sadly, the easy banter afforded by Aya and her girlfriends now seems a nostalgic anomaly, as the once glittering city of Abidjan falls further into decline.
I am not sure whether the next few books of Aya De Yopougon would reference this decline – but I do look forward to finding the next few books in the series.
#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 19 out of target 100