The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf, translated from the French by Sam Taylor
154 pages, published by Metropolitan Books in 2015
(This book was purchased at Green Brain Comics)
This graphic memoir is subtitled, "A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984," and the fact that the memoir is narrated by this child, ranging from pre-conception to the age of six years old leaves the reader with the wondering of just how reliable the information they are reading and viewing can really be. While there is some obvious love and admiration for his father, young Riad's descriptions of Abdel-Razak are not what you might call impressive. His father is represented as uncouth (he chews with his mouth open, for instance), horribly racist, and very naive when it comes to his views upon his standing within the world, even when it is pretty clearly pointed out to him.
Riad does refer to his father as brilliant and one that had been awarded a scholarship to the Sorbonne in Paris, and Abdel-Razak did graduate Cum Laude. He never seems to have any difficulties finding good work teaching as the family goes from France to Libya, to Syria, back to France and back to Syria (where they are headed as this memoir ends).
On the other hand, Riad treats his mother in a nicer manner, not perfect by any means as she for the most part accepts the role of woman standing behind her man, but she comes across as wiser, smarter about the world, and strong when it is absolutely needed. She is a French woman, a European with blonde hair, which Riad also has, and in a pretty luxurious manner, through these early years of his life. He is frequently referred to as yahudi, or Jew, by Syrian boys. Riad admits to not wanting a younger brother or sister (though even saying it might be a girl was a jinx according to Abdel-Razak--it HAD to be a brother).
I don't know that I learned much about Libya, nor Syria, at least not in this volume, and that was definitely something I was hoping for when picking this memoir up. Realizing that at least a portion of this might be the result of reading the memoir of a six year old, I do look forward to more from Sattouf as he looks at his later years.
There are many panels in this graphic memoir that not only have the narration, or some dialogue between characters, but will have lighter, cursive, notes--things that seem to point out very specific memories of young Riad. Things like plastic bags blowing around Syria, or memories of what the post office in Syria looked like from a distance. These maybe give the reader a boost in believing in the memory of Riad, no matter how young he was during the years this particular memoir cover.
The artwork itself is strong. It reminds me a bit of Charles Schultz's Peanuts--in that the characters are done pretty basically--strong outlines and not a ton of detail, yet Sattouf is able with just a little work on their expressions to completely allow the reader into their heads. And his usage of color in the background works very well, making sure the reader is aware of changes, or something specific within the panel that needs to be noticed.
Realizing as I bought and read this that there was already a volume two covering the next couple of years might have had me reading this a bit differently than had I not known it was going to be something longer. And actually, reading it in English, allowing for a year in translation, allows me to know that volume three is already out in France and likely on the way here sometime next year. I'm really looking forward to the second volume after completing this one and enjoying it as much as I did.