Page 45 Review by Jonathan
Hello, great healer.
That your car over there? Want me to cast a spell on your husband?
No, Im here about my son.
Ah, you want him to make it big?
Hes disappeared. Help me to find him.
Got some of his stuff?
Heres his favourite comb, some underwear, a dirty shirt...
Available in English at long last, this tome represents books 4 to 6 of Marguerite Abouets slice of life look at the goings-on in the fictional Yop City, set in the late 1970s Ivory Coast, which was something of a golden era for the country economically and socially, before events took a turn for the worse with the late 90s coup, then the 2002 civil war. All the gang are back as the 19-year-old Aya, ever the wise head on young shoulders, serenely guides her friends and family through one crisis after another, usually of their own making. This time around. though, she does have some problems of her own, due to the unwelcome attentions of her University Biology professor. Try as she might to sort the situation out herself, it becomes increasingly apparent shes going to need the help of her friends for a change.
I do love Abouets laid back, easy going portrayal of Yop City life, punctuated by the various shenanigans her cast are frequently getting up to and into. You can easily see why the first volume won the Best First Graphic Novel prize at Angoulême as you really get the sense of Jerry Springer-like drama the various characters are embroiled in, but also the genuine emotional connections many of the characters have for each other. I imagine local neighbourhoods back in our grandparents time were very much like Yop City, everyone knowing every elses business with the sheer impossibility of keeping anything gossip-worthy secret for too long. Apparently she was inspired to write AYA by reading Marjane (PERSEPOLIS) Satrapi, because she wanted to do something to show a side of Africa that didnt revolve around the usual media obsessions of famine and war, but the genuine day-to-day life experience for some of its citizens, and she succeeds with aplomb in that respect.
The art, from Clement Oubrérie, is equally excellent, capturing the rich flavour of African culture, with its sunny climate, vibrant colours, and cacophony of ever-present background activity. All perfectly counterpointed when we see Innocent, the most definitely not-in-the-closest gay hairstylist with a penchant for dressing like Thriller-era Michael Jackson (red leather jacket, geri curls and all) who is of course the secret former boyfriend of very much in-the-closet Albert, trying to adapt to his new Parisian life. Expecting the streets to be paved with gold, Innocent is rather disappointed to find you cant even hunt pigeons in the park if you havent got any food. His increasing misery, whilst being rather amusing to read, really does make your heart go out to him, and neatly sums up everything that is so brilliant about this work.
I imagine AYA must be one of the best kept secrets on our shelves, actually. I freely confess I only picked up the first volume (then available in three separate hardbacks) when I was short of something to read one night and was instantly hooked. I find myself rather sad Ive finished it now. All the multitudinous characters story arcs are neatly wrapped up, though rather than any great dramatic conclusions, you get the impression its merely the neat closing of various chapters. I do rather hope, therefore, they arent the concluding ones, and that Abouet does intend to write some more at some point!