Aya: Life in Yop City is a stunning graphic soap opera of a novel* set in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 1978. Aya, its central character, is determined to get excellent grades and head to university to become a doctor. Her best friends, Adjoua and Bintou, have other plans.
Thus begins an intricate sequence of events as Aya and her friends – and their families, neighbours, bosses, employees, and just about everybody else in the working-class neighbourhood affectionately known as Yop City – pursue their goals, enjoy each other’s company, quarrel, and, well, live.
In the bonus (thoroughly awesome) material at the end of this section of Aya’s story (begun in Aya and concluded in Aya: Love in Yop City), author Marguerite Abouet speaks about how her childhood in Abidjan influenced her writing:
I came to France at the age of twelve… As the years went by, I had the desire to write Aya. I had always felt the need to recollect my youth [in the Ivory Coast], the mischief I got into, the unbelievable stories about the quartier (neighborhood), the families, the neighbors. I did not want to forget that part of my life. I wanted to hold on to those memories, and the desire to recount them got stronger with age. I felt a little guilty for being content in another country, far away from my family; in addition, I got so annoyed at the way in which the media systematiccaly showed the bad side of the African continent, habitual litanies of wars, famine, of the ‘sida’ (AIDS) and other disasters, that I wished to show the other side, to tell about daily modern life that also exists in Africa. Aya is therefore an urban story which could have taken place anywhere in the world.
Aya could have taken place anywhere in the world – the family dramas, quests for work and love, and day to day interactions are just so human – but it is also very grounded in the details of slang, dress, and culture – and these specific snippets of 1978 Ivorian life make the story universal. Readers of Marvel comic books may find the pacing and style a little different from what they are accustomed to, but will soon settle into the rhythm of Yop City.
Did I mention the humour? Yes. The humour. Verbal and visual, in major plot points and minor, almost irrelevant (but so perfect for scene-setting) sidetrips, Abouet and Oubrerie will have you smiling, snickering, and laughing out loud.
“As if being pathetic weren’t bad enough, now you’re reproducing!” – Simone Sissoko
As this is the second of three books, there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Fortunately, you don’t need to have read the first to understand the characters’s personalities and aims, or what is going on; and there is a handy chart at the beginning of the story which shows the members of the main families. There are also, as I said, “Ivorian bonus” pages at the end (including a glossary) where characters address the reader and explain (with illustrations) things like what to do after you give birth; how to make ginger juice, peanut sauce, and chicken kedjenou; two to wrap a pagne, and how to carry a baby on your back:
There you go, now you can tend to whatever needs to be done.
Obviously, it looks complicated, but with a little practice, you’ll manage…
Just to play it safe, you might want to practice first on a teddy bear or a doll.
There is little more I can say without spoiling the plot. How about this: you go read Aya: Life in Yop City, and then we’ll talk about it. Seriously. It’s sweet and funny and real. Thanks, Yash!
*If that sounds like an insult, in this case, it isn’t.