Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet is best described as a more realistic soap opera. Set in the Ivory Coast of the late 1970’s it deals with the families, loves, foibles, schemes, and eccentricities of a group of young people in Yop city (Yopougon) and its surrounding area. While place plays a role, this story is very much about the people.
The lives of all the characters in this story intersect on a regular basis. It depicts a closeness and mutuality that rings true. This interdependence is on display with what is perhaps the thrust of the first part of this volume, the quest of Adjoua’s family to find who is her baby’s father. Her father, Hyacinte, hatches a scheme to photograph all of the villagers so as to suss out who the baby’s other parent is. He succeeds when a photograph of Mamadou is brought to his attention. Watching Adjoua and Mamadou’s parents negotiate economic help (from Mamadou) for the newborn is a humorous experience (the reader feels embarrassed for Mamadou). After the father is found the baby still makes regular appearances, with Adjoua’s friends and families taking the time to help out with the child.
Aya is of course one of the main characters and, in this volume, perhaps the most virtuous. She is everywhere, helping one of her friends (Adjoua) with a new baby, giving pageant advice to her housekeeper (Félicité), and agreeing to teach her friend who is illiterate (Hervé) how to spell. She is even present for the cliffhanger at the end of the volume that makes the reader want to find out what happens next.
Through the course of the novel, all the characters interact in some way. It shows how interconnected they all are. The effect is to make Yop city feel like a real place where people are always crossing paths. Clément Oubrerie’s art adds to the effect. He uses shaky pencil-like lines with bright colors to give the characters a sense of life. His talent shines when highlighting the familial resemblance of Mamadou with Adjoua’s baby. There is no doubt in the reader’s or characters’ mind that they are related. It is not limited there, all of the characters pop and feel like people with idiosyncrasies and hopes and dreams.
Unfortunately most of the idiosyncrasies of the men involve them being disingenuous, conniving or unfaithful to others. Other than Hervé, who is portrayed as a rather simple person, all of the men are portrayed rather negatively. This doesn’t feel like it negates the “truth” of the story, though it is something to consider while evaluating it.
Given that it is a human centric story and that it focuses primarily on the lives of young people, Aya of Yop City is high school age appropriate. The story tackles very real subjects (teen pregnancy and relationships both romantic and familial) in a thoughtful and humorous way. In addition it depicts Africa and the Ivory Coast in a time and place (stability) that few stories, who make it over to the Western Hemisphere, do. This makes it an important comic and one that should be widely read.