Tamara Drewe and Aya of Yop City (Graphic Novels)

Tamara Drewe – Posy Simmonds (2007)

tamara drewe

I watched Tamara Drewe the movie many years ago, remember liking it, and thought I wouldn’t mind reading the graphic novel to see it in different format. So I took it when I saw it at the library.

The setting is charming: a writer’s retreat somewhere in England countryside, where writers go to have all services done – meal, cleaning, laundry presumably, leaving them all the time in the world to ponder and write. I can only imagine how much this may cost.

In the oldest story structure style of a stranger coming to town, Tamara Drewe is a former inhabitant of the small town who went to make a pretty successful writing career in London, now back to her old family house with a nose job and glamorous London life under her belt. At one point she even starts bringing a drummer boyfriend who’s been in a band!

This feels like a really grown-up graphic novel. Simmonds often write in prose and paragraphs with illustrations on the side, in addition to the usual comic panels. The characters and conflicts in the story are realistic and down to earth. The open marriage relationship between the married couple host of the retreat is particularly interesting and believable – all the characters are. Love how all the threads come together at the end. The literary backdrop is a bonus.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

Aya of Yop City (Aya #2) by Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie (2009)

aya 2

Aya of Yop City is the second book in the Aya series. It picks up a story thread from the previous book – which I read years ago, so it took me a while to remember. The premise isn’t complicated however, so it almost doesn’t matter whether you’ve read the first Aya or not.

The series is set in the idyllic Ivory Coast in the late 1970s. It seems rare to find books set in Africa that are not about bad things happening, and Aya fills in that gap. I love how it just tells the story of average middle class people with their middle class problems – that felt like it could happen anywhere in the world, except that this is in Africa.

But in some other ways it also felt uniquely African. There’s a baby in dispute at the beginning of the book (as pictured with Aya on the cover – but he is not Aya’s baby), and I love how the baby being passed from one hand to another and is essentially taken care of by the whole village. There’s a little note at the end of the book about the African culture related to this, how spoiled a woman would be after birth, how mom and grandmother would take care of her, while sisters, sister-in-laws, cousins would take care of the baby, and the rest of the women in the village help with the cooking and cleaning. In the weeks following, the mother would go from one door to another in the neighborhood to introduce the baby, sort of a ritual to make it part of the community. As it grows up, the whole village would keep watch together. Such a nice image.

Aya herself is a great main character. She is the sensible one amongst the other crazier characters. She is a good student and she clearly has dreams and goals for her future that is not simply playing housewife. Just like book one, book two also includes a recipe, this time Kedjenou Chicken. (I have yet to try the recipe in the first book =/ )

There’s interview with Abouet (who’s migrated to France at a young age) at the back of the book with a quote that’s especially poignant even to this day:

“As an African from the West, I would like to point out that the French had the black Africans brought over to do the jobs that no on else wanted to do. As long as the Blacks stayed in their assigned place – as supermarket attendants, house maids, street sweepers, in child and geriatric care, or at most, as artists and athletes – all went very well. But now some of the offspring and young children of those first arrivals are doing more than that. At the price of a difficult struggle, they are becoming company owners, managers, intellectuals, and they are more visible. These Blacks sense more discrimination because they have abandoned their role. This kind of racism is more frequent when the economy is doing poorly.

Today’s real danger is not idiotic racism and the increase in nationalists. We know how to deal with it — it is evident in ordinary attitudes which convey the worst paternalistic and condescending cliches that symbolically destroy Blacks even more surely than the overtly racist insults.” (Interview with Angela Ajayi at Wild River Review)

Mee’s rating: 4/5

 

Aya de Yopougon by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

Set in 1970s Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast, often referred to as the “Paris of West Africa”, the book is about the story of the youngsters Aya and her friends. I loved how I got a glimpse of daily life and culture in such place. There are very few graphic novels set in “exotic” places that I know of. The illustration of Aya is alive and vibrant, the book gently humorous. Great read.

4 stars
2006, 132pp

First line
1978 was the year that Ivory Coast, my beautiful country, got to see its first television ad campaign.

Award
Winner of the best first book at the International Comics Festival, Angouleme, 2006

At the end of the book there are some tidbits of information with pictures about their piece of clothing (e.g. pagne (pa-nye) is a piece of brightly colored, wax-printed cloth. Every pattern has a meaning so you need to watch what you wear.), drink (Gnamankoudji, known as ginger juice), and there’s even a recipe! I would really like to try making their African peanut sauce (which is more like stew). A lot of Indonesian food has peanut or peanut sauce, so it’ll be interesting to try this one.

Peanut Sauce recipe

2 lbs beef (or 1 free range chicken)
4 large tomatoes
1 can of tomato paste
2 large onions
1/4 lb jar of unsweetened peanut butter
1 hot pepper
salt
2 maggi cubes

Trim and cube the meat. Dice 1 onion. Brown the meat and onion in a heavy pot, add a bit of salt, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
When all liquid has evaporated, add 4 tomatoes, cut into quarters, the second onion, cut in half, and a can of tomato paste.
After 10 mins, add water to cover the meat. Stir in the peanut butter, a pinch of salt and the hot pepper (don’t slice or crush – the pepper is meant to perfume the sauce). Remove the pepper after a while (serve it separately for people who like their food spicy), cover and simmer for half an hour.
After the 30 mins, remove the tomatoes and onions, blend them in a food processor and return to the sauce. Add a maggi cube. Top off with enough water to barely cover the meat. Place a lid on the pot and simmer for another 30 mins.
When a film of oil appears on the surface of your sauce it’s done.
Skim off the oil if you like and season to taste. Add the second maggi cube. Your sauce should be rich and flavorful. Serve with rice.

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