Aya of Yop City
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Aya of Yop City is a series of six bande dessinée albums written by Marguerite Abouet and drawn by Clément Oubrerie. The original French albums were published by Gallimard between 2005 and 2010. All six volumes have been translated into English by Drawn & Quarterly. The first album received the Prize for First Album at the 2006 Angoulême International Comics Festival.
The series is one of the few works of postcolonial African fiction that focuses almost entirely on the middle class. Although not entirely autobiographical, the story is based on the author’s life in Côte d'Ivoire. Aya of Yop City is the second of three books in the Abouet's Aya series, each based on the same characters. All three of the books in the series haven been illustrated by the author’s husband, Clément Oubrerie. It will be adapted into an animated film in 2012 by the same authors.
Aya of Yop City is a novel that follows the lives of many different people living on the Ivorian coast. All of the characters are connected by the main character, Aya, as she assists and helps them through their various dilemmas and daily issues. The book begins with the birth of the son of Moussa and Adjoua. Moussa’s family is questioning the fact that the baby looks nothing like Moussa. They begin to accuse Adjoua of saying that the baby is Moussa’s when it in fact is not. Adjoua’s family denies this and claims that they will be able to find someone in their family that the baby looks like. Adjoua and her family go to the village to try and find someone that looks like Adjoua’s newborn child. They get to the village and Hyacinte, Adjoua’s father, eats and drinks with his family and takes pictures of all of them with the baby trying to find someone that the child looks like. Eventually, everyone finds out the true father of Bobby, Mamadou. The wedding between Moussa and Adjoua is canceled and Moussa begins to work for his father. His father seems to be very hard on him, but at the same time Moussa is extremely lazy and doesn’t really do much. At work he tends to hit on the women workers, and is always being yelled at by his father. All the while Adjoua is selling fritters at the market trying to provide for her son. Aya takes care of Bobby the majority of the time and is always helping Adjoua while trying to keep up with her schoolwork at the same time. Bobby’s father, Mamadou doesn’t fully take on his responsibilities as a father and Adjoua relies mostly on Aya for help and support.
While this is occurring, Aya’s friend Bintou begins seeing a Parisian man named Gregoire. He wines and dines her and seems as if he is an extremely wealthy man from Paris. He claims that he came back to the Ivorian coast to look for a wife. Bintou begins seeing him a lot and is always discussing him to Aya and Adjoua. However, one day when Bintou goes to see him at his hotel she finds out that he is no longer there. She finally finds him at a house where his mother supposedly lives. It is at this moment where the reader finds out that Gregoire is actually poor and that he has been putting on a show for Bintou this whole time.
Another character in the story, Herve, goes to Aya for help. He works fixing cars and is going to end up taking over the business since the owner is sick. However, he does not know how to read and write. It is because of this that he goes to Aya and asks her if she is able to teach him about letters. Aya agrees, as she is always helping out her friends and family. Nevertheless, she also has some problems of her own. Aya’s father goes on a business trip and Aya asks to go with him. On their way there they pass by a woman who acts as if she knows Aya’s father, Ignace. They act as if she is crazy and continue on their way. At Ignace’s office, Aya meets her father’s secretary, Jeanne. Everything seems to be going fine, but Ignace gets an urgent call from his boss where he finds out that he is being relocated to a new office and that all of his employees are being let go, including his secretary. Ignace is extremely upset by this. Jeanne unexpectedly comes to Aya’s house with two kids looking for Ignace. When he comes out, her two children run up to him calling him daddy. It is at this point where we see that Aya’s father has been cheating on her mother and has a whole separate family.
Aya of Yop City is set in Côte d'Ivoire during the 1970s. Specifically, the story takes place in Yopougon-Koute, or Yop City for short. Côte d'Ivoire, a country on the west coast of Africa, was colonized by France until August 7, 1960 when the country received its independence. Félix Houphouët-Boigny led the country after gaining independence until 1993. During this time, Côte d'Ivoire kept close ties with its West African neighbors as well as ties to France. This combination of influences created a unique culture where traditional African culture meshed with modern Western ideals. The post-colonial influence was enhanced by the fact that many Europeans, especially the French, moved to the country after they received independence. This is called the “Ivorian miracle” because in the rest of Africa, the Europeans were pushed out of the countries after independence was declared.
When Houphouët-Boigny took the presidency, the country experienced an economic boom. This boom led to the creation of the middle class. With this rise in wealth for a portion of the country, many were able to send their children to school, especially peasants. A peak in the primary-school enrollment rates, at 9.1% between 1976 and 1980, reflects this change. Education, along with other social influences, made many, mostly women, aware of their rights. This began to mix African ideals with European ideals. Women began fighting back against legislation which was aimed at sexual inequality and often succeeded in doing so. As many women became educated, they received more and more power when it came to relationships, especially marriages. Another example of the combination of cultures is language. Throughout the country there are many local languages, but the official language of the country is French. Again, these influences can be seen throughout the novel, especially through the female characters.
Advancement of Women in Society
Aya is different than the other women in Yop City because of her dismissal of the task of finding a husband. She is completely uninterested in men and would rather take care of Bobby and work towards her future. She is a very driven and independent, which is certainly highlighted throughout the novel. Aya’s determination to go to Yamoussoukro with her father to see his work displays her need to achieve a bigger role in society than just becoming a mother or selling fritters at the market. She also tells her father very adamantly that she will not let him force her into a marriage with a man she does not want to marry. The other women in the novel don’t seem to be as concerned as Aya with changing their roles in society through pursuing an education and a professional level career. Rather they are more predisposed to the typical women’s role in Yop City of staying home to raise a family. Aya nevertheless sets a good example and high standard, as she aspires to be a doctor one day. Aya represents the push towards raising the standards of women’s contributions to the community, rather than staying consistent with the historical gender role in Yop City, as displayed by the other women.
Infidelity and Dishonesty
The reveal of Ignace’s second family at the end of the novel is just one example of the infidelity presented in this portrayal of Yop City. The women’s reliance on men for survival gives them the dominating role over their relationships, and ability to do what they want, sometimes taking no responsibility. Ignace’s mistress conceals their children for a long time, and the reveal of his second family also displays the mistress’s growing independence to stand up to Ignace. Since they have no other choice, the women of Yop City are forced to cater to the needs of their husbands and children, leaving men with no responsibility. This lack of responsibility is shown through the character Mamadou, the father of Bobby, who didn’t even know he had a son and had to be forced to give support for his upbringing. He can barely provide enough child support, and is hardly a lingering presence in Bobby’s life. In addition, the “Parisian” lied to Bintou in the exclusivity of their relationship, as well as his life in general, and led her on to believe that she was special and the only woman he was involved with. He becomes tangled up in his lies and eventually is caught. The men of Yop City, while not all unfaithful, have shown little responsibility and respect towards the women in their lives.
Family & Community
Within the first page of Aya of Yop City, the family units are mapped out, laying the groundwork for the strong family ties and connections throughout the novel. These initial family trees let the reader know immediately that family ties are going to be an important force in the community. Within each scene multiple community members from each of the families interact, showing they are ever present in each other's lives. Ignace works for Bonaventure, Bobby, Adjoua’s son, is Aya’s godson, and Aya tutors Hervè who is Bintou's cousin. These are just a few of the examples of the relationships in the Yop City community. The close connections between the different characters gives the reader the sense that this community has always been tightly knit. Aya best portrays this sense of community through her relationships with others. She performs many favors for her friends, most notably taking care of Bobby as if he was her own. From living in the same area to getting involved in the family business, as Moussa did, the people of Yop City truly value the family unit. While family might not always be the most important, as shown by Ignace’s mistress and other children, it is an overarching force that makes their community run.
- Aya - The protagonist of the book, Aya is a sweet and innocent girl who is connected to everyone character in some way. Through Aya the audience can learn different themes and obstacles that face her family and friends in Yop city. Aya helps out the entire community in several ways. She helps Adouja with her child, gives Bintou advice with her love life, helps out at home, teaches Herve how to spell, and she coaches Felicite for the pageant. Aya is humble and very gracious. She is supportive of her friends and family and is always willing to help others. Although she is very young and naive, the audience gets a glimpse of different problems and situations that are common in the African culture.
- Ignace - Aya’s father. He is a working businessman with two separate families. Throughout the book, the audience sees him trying to cover up the identity of his mistresses. When taking Aya with him to work, they run into one of Ignace’s old mistresses. Ignace tries to play if off as if he does not know her, and Aya does not think much of this woman. When they reach his work establishment, it becomes very apparent that Ignace keeps his family life and work life very separate. He even makes a commotion when Ignace’s assistant/ mistress Jeanna converses with Aya about her family and mother. Ignace struggles to save Jeanna’s job and he becomes more easily irritable when her career is at stake. Aya and her family do not know about Ignace sex escapades until the end of the book when Jeanne visits Ignace at Aya’s house with their children. Ignace represents that African men who continuously cheat on their wives and often have second families. Ignace is very defensive and can be extremely rude when he feels that his family may be suspicious about his actions.
- Akissi - Aya’s little sister.
- Fofana - Aya’s little brother.
- Felicite - Felicite is the maid for Aya’s family and also helps take care of Bobby. Aya wishes to help Felicite practice for the Miss Yopougon pageant. Felicite, in conjunction with Aya, will help Adjoua with her child situation by either watching Bobby, or helping Adjoua sell fritters at the market.
- Fanta - Aya’s mother and a typical African housewife. She does chores around the house and tends to the children. Sadly, Fanta is obvious to her husbands other family and is shocked at the end when his mistress is revealed. Fanta is very sweet towards her husband and Aya. She is completely blindsided by Ignace’s affair at the end of the book. The audience feels sympathy for Fanta because she is very supportive and kind of her husband and he is nothing but secretive and rude to her.
- Adjoua – A young single mother struggling to make money in Yop City. Adjoua told her family that the child, Bobby, was Moussa’s son. Adjoua knew that the actual father was Mamadou but she told her parents that Moussa was the father so they could get married and she would gain his family’s wealth. Throughout the book, Adjoua shows her irresponsibility with her child. Aya is usually taking care of Bobby while Adjoua works at the market. Adjoua sometimes forgets to feed Bobby and is always needing help from her friends. Towards the end of the book we see Adjoua finally addressing Mamadou about his lack of child support and she is stepping up as a mother and is paying more attention to her child.
- Hyacinte - Adjoua’s father. He is very persistent about confirming that Bobby is Moussa’s son. Hyacinte searches the city to find Moussa’s relatives in order to take a picture that’ll serve as biological proof. Hyacinte was outraged to find out the Mamadou was the actual father, when he was working so hard to proof some type of family connect between Moussa and Bobby. Hyacinte abandons Adjoua after being disappointed that her child was not the heir to Moussa fortune.
- Korotoumou - Adjoua’s mother. She was outraged as well to find out that Moussa was not the father. It served as a disappointment to the entire family and an embarrassment in the community. Originally, Koro was not convinced that Bobby is Moussa’s child and she proposes to search the village for the man who could actually be Bobby’s father.
- Albert - Adjoua’s brother. Albert is not a major character in the first book but we find him sneaking around with another woman at night. He won’t introduce this girl to his family and we do not get a glimpse of the girl. He is very defensive when anyone asks about this mysterious girl and he will not present her even though his family has promised to accept her.
- Bintou – Bintou is very promiscuous and is dying to live a fancier life. When she meets the “Parisian” she is instantly amazed by him and talks him up to her friends. She quickly sleeps with him and is determined to leave with him and start her new life in France. Bintou is extremely naïve and is fooled by the lies that Gregoire tells her. Gregoire even has other women visiting him at the hotel at the same time Bintou is. She denies the fact that he isn’t rich when they find him drying his clothes outside. Bintou is a very materialistic and money hungry girl who truly only cares about her well-being. However, she is very confident and has high self-esteem, but her cockiness inhibits her to see things as they truly are.
- Koffi - Bintou’s father.
- Herve - Bintou’s cousin. Herve is extremely hard working. He works as a car mechanic and is becoming increasingly skilled at fixing cars. Herve is also illiterate and comes to Aya after he decided that he wants to learn the alphabet. Herve is a hardworking,humble boy that the audience roots for as he progesses throughout the book.
- Mamadou - Bobby's real father. Mamadou is referred to as a skirt chaser because he is known to sleep around the city. Hyacinte is angered that Mamadou is the father because Moussa is much wealthier. At first, Mamadou does not seem like a responsible father figure at all, but towards the end of the book, the audience sees a growth in Mamadou as he searches for a job and begins to help Adjoua with by paying child support.
- Moussa – Moussa and his family are much wealthier than the other families in the book. Moussa deals with his unaffectionate father and struggles to receive any encouragement from him. He uses his father’s name to meet girls at his father’s business and he often daydreams about women and living a carefree life. He does not take his future very seriously, but he is also very young and is still growing up. His father is very critical of him and he is scolded often. Yet, Moussa does not let his father’s discipline change him and he remains as a free-spirited, young and reckless young man.
- Bonaventure Sissoko - Moussa’s father. He is very unemotional and is often angry. He is very strict with his son and his business. When Hyacinte approaches Bonaventure with the child, Bonaventure was extremely upset and demanded for Adjoua’s family to come up with proof that Bobby is Moussa’s son. Bonaventure continuously expresses his hard work ethic and his disapproval of his son’s immature ways. We see no compassion from Bonaventure but he does not portray the same characteristics as Ignace and he does not seem to be having any affairs, unlike the other male characters in the book.
- Simone Sissoko - Moussa’s mother, who is much more compassionate and worried about Moussa. She worries for Moussa and encourages Bonaventure to be more kind to their son. She is very supportive of her son and understands that Bonaventure can be too aggressive with him sometimes. She is a lovely and caring mother who wants to see her son succeed just like his father, yet she is still having trouble letting him go.
- Gregoire- A poor man who tricks Bintou into believing that he is a French Parisian. Gregoire is actually sleeping with several woman and he saves up money just so he can appear like a rich man and spoil his mistresses. He is a desperate man who will pretty much sell just about anything just so he can manipulate young women for sex.
- Jeanne - Ignace’s secretary and his mistress. Jeanna has two children with Ignace. Ignace keeps Jeanne a secret while Jeanna seems to know a lot about Aya and her family. Aya and her family are completely unaware of Jeane and her importance until the end of the book when she surprises Aya and her family at their home.
A film adaptation, Aya de Yopougon, was released in May 2012. The film was co-directed by Abouet and Oubrerie and was produced by Autochenille Production, the studio responsible for the film adaptation of Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat.
- "Ivory Coast Chapter 1 - Historical Setting". Mongabay. November 1988. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
- Abouet, Marguerite. "Drawing on the Universal in Africa." Aya of Yop City. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.
- Abouet, Marguerite. "Drawing on the Universal in Africa." Aya of Yop City. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.
- "Ivory Coast - Primary Education". Mongabay. November 1988. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
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