A smart and sweetly comic glimpse of a time and place in Africa that get little attention in the West.

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AYA

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.

Pub Date: March 20, 2007

ISBN: 1-894937-90-2

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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