Day 14: Aya de Yopougon

Across the first month of 2020, Sophie Baggott is sharing her thirty favourite books by women from across the world. Find out more about her project to read women writers from every country worldwide here.

One of the most unique books I’ve read so far during this project comes from Côte d’Ivoire – Aya de Yopougon by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie (tr. Helge Dascher). The author, Marguerite said of it: “That’s what I wanted to show in Aya: an Africa without the . . . war and famine, an Africa that endures despite everything because, as we say back home, life goes on.” She certainly achieved her goal, and more. This is a beautiful and memorable book.

A sneak-peek of the book's pages

In a nutshell: Set in Côte d’Ivoire during its 1970s ‘belle époque’, this entertaining graphic novel wryly dips into the daily – and nightly – life of a community in Yopougon (aka Yop City), where it’s not just the young people getting up to mischief.

To pluck out a line: “There’s me, Aya, 19 years old, wondering why anyone would think of beer as a vitamin”.

If I had to choose one image: This time I have to comment not on words but on Clément’s brilliant illustrations which subtly amp up the comedy – e.g. a shotgun wedding scene where the bride and groom (each with a black eye from fuming loved ones) are told to “be fruitful and multiply”.

Sharing a thought: The contrast between Aya’s aspirations and those of her friends is most striking when we overhear her attempt to raise the prospect of studying to be a doctor with her father, who redirects the focus on her finding a good husband – likewise her friends’ aim in life; Aya’s ambition is cast as an anomaly despite the decade’s optimism.

Fact: The end comes with a few surprise treats – a glossary and recipes, as well as a guide on how to read a woman’s pagne (brightly coloured wax-printed cloth); apparently the saying goes, “you can always tell a woman by her pagne”.

If you’d like to read Aya de Yopougon, please visit here.

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