23rd Manga Division Excellence Award
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984
Riad SATTOUF / Translation: UNO Takanori [France / Japan]
This is a graphic memoir by Riad SATTOUF, a representative European cartoonist born to a Syrian father and French mother. Part one of a popular series, it became a bestseller around the world, selling more than 2 million copies. Riad’s father, Abdul-Razak, moved to Libya while it was being ruled by Qadhafi and became a university professor. In Libya at that time, food was rationed and people were forbidden from owning property, so they made a temporary move to his mother Clémentine’s hometown in the Brittany region of France. Abdul-Razak then found a position at the University of Damascus and moved his family to Syria, under the Hāfiz al-Asad regime, living in the poor village where he’d been born. Witness to unfathomable family dynamics and the presence of bodies of people who had been executed, Riad is raised to be resilient and aspires to become “the Arab of the future.” In his memoir, events in Libya are depicted in a mustard yellow color, with those in France in light blue and others in Syria in a pale pink. The figure of the main character, as he ricochets back and forth between cultures, is drawn comically.
Childhood is a universal experience, but it is quite rare for someone to have lived in three different countries in the short time between birth and the age of six. Moreover, although Riad had lived in France, he moved to Libya and Syria, which were both under dictators at the time. The author has a complex of roots from both his Syrian father and French mother, and here he writes with surprising candor about the experiences in countries with such different cultures. At the same time, Riad deliberately uses certain techniques of expression, along with varying background colors, to differentiate between the countries’ geographical characteristics and the impressions they effect. The delicious taste of rationed bananas, the distinct sounds of the call to prayer that ring out early each morning, and the precise description of aromas all appeal to the reader’s senses, and give the story a tangible air. The characters, through simple strokes, are drawn into a layout of frames that has a unique rhythm, and Riad succeeds in presenting even the most shocking parts of his story with a matter-of-fact and humorous approach. This work is not only a valuable record of some unique experiences, but also fully deserving of this award as a splendid, compelling manga written by a very talented creator. (KAWAHARA Kazuko)