Pin of the Week #1: Aya, The Ivorian Graphic Novel Series

We plan to bring you regular highlights from our Pinterest boards, which are kept active by a team of ‘virtual volunteers’ in the USA and Ghana. We have our partners Friends of Mmofra to thank for recruiting and managing student ‘pinners’ on our behalf!

Aya: Life in Yop City

Pinned to: Mmofra Booklist for Young Adults

Aya: Life in Yop City collects the first three volumes of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubriere’s award-winning series of graphic novels, which follow the day-to-day life of a young woman in the Ivorian capital Abidjan.

Aimed at young adults, the stories are loosely based on the author’s own childhood in the city’s Yopougon-Koute suburb – ‘Yop City’ for short. Abouet uses the books to depict ordinary human dramas, consciously avoiding the themes that dominate Western depictions of life in African countries.

In an author interview that appears in the collection, she says:

“The easygoing and careless [carefree?] impression of Africa that is found in Aya fortunately still exists. It would be nice if the African continent were evoked dropping the stereotypes of suffering, because Africa is really quite a large and diverse continent.

I can assure you that the Ivory Coast remains a beautiful country with nice neighborhoods, superb beaches, and a magnificent flora and fauna, despite its disasters. African women finally share the same dreams as other women on the planet, and all I want to do is show their daily lives along with their hopes and desires to find fulfillment as modern women in Africa.”

Abouet’s characters fall in and out of love, argue with family members, go to work; they are average middle-class people, depicted with warmth and humour. The light tone is reflected in wonderfully detailed illustrations by Abouet’s husband Clément Oubrerie, who works from his wife’s own visual concepts.

The Aya books come with an ‘Ivorian Bonus’ at the end, featuring lifestyle tips and helpful definitions. Palu is malaria, and claclos are deep-fried spiced ripe plantain dumplings (Ghanaians, take note). There’s also an illustrated recipe for chicken kedjenou and a guide to carrying a baby on the back using your pagne (brightly colored wax-printed cloth).

Bringing Aya to Africa

Following a familiar pattern, the Aya comics have been more accessible outside Cote d’Ivoire, particularly in the US and in France, where Abouet now lives. Fortunately for readers in Cote d’Ivoire, the author has been able to convince her publisher to sell cheaper softcover versions there.

We’d love to see the series more widely read by young adults everywhere, particularly in African countries, and so we’ve added several Aya collections to our Young Adult Booklist – one of our ‘wish lists’ of titles for our library in Accra. They also appear on our Animated Africa for Kids & Teens wall.

The non-profit organisation Friends of African Village Librarives (FAVL) is also a big Aya fan. It runs community libraries in Ghana and Burkina Faso, and has been campaigning hard to get Abouet’s books onto the shelves. For rural readers in West Africa, quality books that deal with familiar themes and environments can be all too hard to find.

Further reading

We noticed writer Nnedi Okorafor, who is a favorite on our Young Adult wall, added the first Aya book to a literature course reading list in the US last year.

The Brown Paper blog found “rich rewards [in] the characters, the setting, the gentle humour and the visuals.”

Wild River Review, which has an illuminating interview with Abouet, praises the comics for “drawing attention to the universal and relatable aspects of Africa.”

The Book Nest agrees: “The plot is a bit like a sitcom, with couples getting together or not, cheating on each other, getting in trouble and having problems with their parents. Older teens would find much to relate to and probably appreciate seeing their own problems worked out on a completely different continent.”

For French-speaking readers, here’s a video of Abouet discussing her work:

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  1. […] original books offer a wonderfully honest and detailed look at growing up in Abidjan, and the film is no different. Author Marguerite Abouet and artist […]