Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie’s Aya de Yopougon 
Trans. Helge Dascher
, 2005 978-2-07-057311-7

(Available as Aya in English)

Over the past summer, I was exploring library branches that I had never visited before and it was at one of those that I made Aya’s acquaintance.This new bookish territory not only took me not only to an unexplored section of the city that I live in, but it also took me to the Ivory Coast in 1978.Volume One of Aya’s story opens with her family and friends there, seated around the television, watching a commercial for the beer company that her father works for.

Aya watches too, but she sits slightly to one side.

It’s fitting for a 19-year-old, who is starting to sense that she will soon be taking a place elsewhere, that her days as a child sitting in her parents’ living room are numbered. (She’ll likely still be sitting there, yes, but as Aya, grown.)

One of her best friends, Adjoua, is also in the living room, with her parents, and her friend, Bintou, is there with her father as well. (It’s a lot of people to meet in a few pages but, in future volumes, there is a-cast-of-characters page at the beginning to help the reader keep everybody straight.)

Both Adjoua and Bintou play important roles in this first volume. Readers get to know them a little, while setting into the world of Yopougon, a working-class neighbourhood in Abidjan (they call it Yop City).

There is nothing fantastic about the story: this is ordinary life, lived by ordinary people. (But, yes, in Africa, and it’s rather extraordinary for me to find this the subject of a graphic novel, but perhaps I’m looking in all the wrong places?)

The focus is on relationships (be they a father’s relationships in the workplace or a daughter’s relationships with suitors) and on day-to-day life, but although it’s not high drama, I quickly became attached to the characters.

For those who are, like me, unfamiliar with the trappings of everyday life in Yop city, there is a glossary to assist, along with an appendix which includes detailed instructions on folding/wearing a Pagne and recipes for peanut sauce and ginger juice.

Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie’s Aya de Yopougon 2 
Gallimard, 2006 
(Available as Aya of Yop City in English)

As the series moves along, readers get a glimpse of other characters struggling with new expecations as they grow.

For instance, Moussa is forced to accompany his father to the office (the beer company which employs Ignace and many others); he’s not comfortable with this new set of expectations but tries to find a way to make it work for him.Other characters, too, reach beyond the known, taking a stab at independence.

And one, in particular, with a baby to care for, finds herself questioning what it takes to raise a child.

Which is really at the heart of this second volume in the series: what does it mean to father/mother a child.

Aya has to ask herself that for rather unexpected reasons. (Although mentioning the child is something of a giveaway, it’s no more than a glance at the cover would reveal; don’t assume anything, because this is a tight community, and the matter that evolves is far more complicated than you could guess.)

Funnily enough, one expects a cliffhanger in a series like Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, but the fact that the second volume in this series ends in one is a happy surprise.

(Well, happy because I’ve discovered this series after it’s well underway, so I can find a copy of volume three without much delay!)

If you enjoy graphic novels, do add these to your list: it’s a spirited and satisfying series filled with memorable characters.

If you’ve already discovered Aya, what did you think? Have you read on in the series?

Companion Reads: 

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis Trans. Mattias Ripa (2002)
Aristophane’s The Zabime Sisters Trans. Matt Madden (2010)
Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (2010)