This graphic novel from author Bessora, illustrator Barroux (How Many Trees?, 2019, etc.), and translator Ardizzone follows a migrant’s arduous journey from West Africa to Europe.
Alpha is a cabinetmaker in the Ivory Coast who wants to take his family to visit his sister-in-law in Paris, but he runs into a mountain of red tape when applying for a visa. “When you leave the consulate, one thing’s for sure—you understand that Côte d’Ivoire loves France more than France loves Côte d’Ivoire,” explains Alpha, before wryly adding, “But, seeing as Côte d’Ivoire doesn’t love its own people very much either, Ivorians still flee for Europe.” So Alpha goes into debt to pay a smuggler to start his wife and son on their journey to France. Six months later, Alpha sells his cabinet shop to pay yet another smuggler in hopes of following his family's path. The book has the appearance of a photo album, most pages presenting a stack of two equal-sized, rectangular images with a short paragraph of Alpha’s deeply human narration beneath each illustration, documenting his journey. As Alpha quickly learns, the road out of Africa is beset with con men, drunken soldiers, endless dusty desert, and death—but also kindred spirits. Barroux’s illustrations have a deceptively simple quality, with heavy lines and people with dots for eyes and bulbous, shiny noses; that simplicity makes an ill migrant’s hollow stare or the stiff joints of a body left to rot all the more haunting. Bessora is a fiction writer whose work “is underpinned by extensive research,” according to the author bio, though the origin of this story is unspecified. It is a compelling tale, though major events transpire in the text-only epilogue, which is delivered by an omniscient narrator rather than Alpha, robbing the conclusion of some of its heft.
Heartbreaking and timely.