The second volume of the author’s graphic memoir presents a portrait of the Franco-Syrian artist as a young boy.
This would seem to be a transitional chapter, following the highly acclaimed debut, The Arab of the Future (2015), which presented most of the themes continued here. The young Riad, now a schoolboy in Syria, remains torn between his experiences in his mother’s native France and his Muslim father’s return with his family to his homeland. His father retains a somewhat prestigious position as a university professor but feels he should do better (and readers of the first volume know he could have). With his white-blond hair distinguishing him from his schoolmates, Riad is mocked as a “Jew” and finds himself playing “war against Israel” in order to fit in. “I always tried to be as aggressive as possible toward the Jews to prove I wasn’t one,” he says of these pretend wars. His teachers cross the line from discipline to sadism and seem most concerned with instilling a blind devotion in the Muslim children (to earthly rulers as well as Allah). He receives mixed messages about the impurity and inferiority of women (“they’re more fragile, weaker. Satan enters them more easily”) and the need for them to wear a veil, though no one seems to notice that his mother doesn’t. And he sees the life of the very rich and very poor, though he finds it hard to tell exactly where his family fits given his father’s ambitions and fantasies. A return to France provides some perspective—in the contrast and in the sheer abundance of consumer goods so rare in Syria. Instead of the Jews despised in Syria, his mother’s family hates “the Krauts, the Germans!” Or as they still consider them, “the Nazis!” There’s a lot here for a 6-year-old boy to process, let alone resolve.
A solid continuation, but subsequent volumes are sure to provide even more provocative material.