It is 1978 in the former capital city of Cote D’Ivoire, Abidjan, and the 19 year old Aya is feeling restless, but not quite as restless as her friend, Adjoua, who is about to go out on the town with her hot new date, Bintou, who’s got a car and will take her to the open air maquis to dance and socialize all night long. This might sound like your average teen drama, but this graphic novel Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Ourbriere (published by Drawn and Quarterly, 2007) sets the story in a small African nation at the height of its prosperity in the 1970’s. Author Marguerite Abouet and illustrator Clément Oubriere bring to life a heady time in the country’s past when there was a fairly large suburban middle class who enjoyed life in a busy and bustling African metropolis. Although the temptations are great, Aya is determined to become a doctor and is prudent in the way she conducts her life unlike Adjoua whose dalliance with Bintou will lead her to … well, you’d best get the graphic novel out and find out for yourself!
This book was originally published in French, but made its translated debut in English in 2007 by the graphic novel publisher Drawn and Quarterly based in Montreal. The English text is prefaced with remarks by Alisia Grace Chase, PhD who gives a brief outline of the golden days of Cote D’Ivoire’s prosperity and wealth in the 1970’s. I found this book a remarkable read and it certainly gave me a completely different picture of Africa from what I formerly had and suspect many Westerners continue to have — that is, of a continent in continual strife with issues of poverty and warfare. It is just this image that Abouet and Oubriere seek to dispel — if somewhat nostalgically — in this fascinating and engaging graphic novel. Since this book’s debut, there have been two other Aya titles released: Aya of Yop City and Aya: The Secrets Come Out.