A young woman navigates shallow men, self-destructive friends and the newly erected class ladder in the prosperous city of Abidjan.
The West African nation of the Ivory Coast won its independence from France in 1960, and thanks to agricultural development, it enjoyed a flourishing economy until the early ’80s. This graphic novel by Abouet, an Ivory Coast native, and French artist Oubrerie, is set in 1978, as Aya, the 19-year-old heroine, becomes increasingly aware of how money is reshaping her family and friendships. Her father, a manager for a local beer company, takes pride in his car, TV set and other trappings of a steady paycheck; her friends Bintou and Adjoua are obsessed with landing a wealthy husband, and they have enough free time to pursue suitors at the disco; Aya, for her part, aspires to attend college and become a scientist. This is mainly a breezy, colorful snapshot of middle-class Ivory Coast life at the height of the country’s boom years, in a tone that’s underscored by Oubrerie’s simple, loose and playful lines. And Abouet has imagined an appealing array of characters notable for their foibles, especially the imposing Mister Sissoko, the head of the beer company. (The TV show Dallas is visitors’ first reference point when entering his palatial estate, speaking of how closely the country took its cultural cues from the U.S.) A serious story is embedded in all this, though: Bintou and Adjoua both battle for the attentions of Sissoko’s son, Moussa, and when Adjoua becomes pregnant, the ensuing pages spark some interesting observations about the country’s class distinctions and the urge to save face. Given the intelligence that Abouet brings to the story, it’s unfortunate that Aya ends so abruptly, but it’s not a fatal flaw. The appendix, with a glossary, recipes and notes on native clothing, is a nice touch.
A smart and sweetly comic glimpse of a time and place in Africa that get little attention in the West.