Friday, February 12, 2010

Aya of Yop City - M. Abouet & C. Oubrerie

I like to keep an open mind when it comes to trying new books, so when I slipped Aya from the shelf it was with a sense of cautious anticipation -I really had no idea what to expect.

The story opens with the elders of the titular Aya’s family debating who the father of her child could be and from there fractures into several different storylines as the various family members go on with their lives, gradually building up an image of life in the Ivory Coast in the late 70’s.

It was only after I realised that Aya had been on my reading pile for close on a fortnight that I started realising that I was only reading in fits and starts, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that the reason for this is that it simply wasn’t holding my attention for very long. I’d read a section, find myself thinking about something else, find an excuse to go make another cup of tea and put it aside for the next day.

And that’s the problem; it reads like an inoffensive soap opera. The characters’ lives are mundane, and the divergent stories diluted the drama and prevented it from building enough momentum to make me want to find out what happened next. Perhaps this was intentional, a mechanism to suggest the sleepy pace of life in old Africa, and as such it enjoys a measure of success -but it comes at a price.

Oubrerie's illustrations are warm, bright, his characters expressive and, while hardly groundbreaking, they lend Aya a quirky, retro feel that sits well with its period setting.

If you’re feeling nostalgic about life in an African state, then perhaps Aya is for you. If you’re looking for something a bit more entertaining or gripping, it’s probably best to keep looking.

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