Autobiographies, Graphic novels

Review: The Arab of The Future by Riad Sattouf

The Arab of the Future  is a series of graphic memoirs published by French cartoonist Riad Sattouf. I have just read the first volume (in French, as you can see in the picture, obviously!), A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984,  and really enjoyed it.

In this beautiful book, Riad Sattouf depicts the first years of his childhood, mostly spent in Libya (then ruled by Kadhafi) and in Syria (then ruled by Hafez Al-Assad). Riad Sattouf was born from a French mother and a Syrian father, his parents having met in Paris when they were both students. His father was a Doctor of History and got offered a position at the university of Tripoli in 1980, when Riad was two. Riad and his parents spent two years in Libya before briefly returning to France and then settling in Syria, where Riad’s dad taught at the University of Damascus (but the family actually lived in a small village near Homs). Riad’s dad had the project to educate young Arabs, starting with his own son, to make them ‘Arabs of the future’.

The story is narrated from a young child’s point of view, which makes it very touching and funny. I didn’t expect to laugh so much with a book whose story takes place in dictatorships but I did. Four-year old Riad is hilarious in his innocence and observations of the world. Thanks to his point of view, the tough and violent aspects of everyday life in remote villages that are part of dictatorships (food shortage, violent propaganda, misogyny…) are never shown frontally but suggested with humour. And thanks to this distance, the story makes its point but never becomes too sad or sensational and I really appreciated it.

You can feel a certain nostalgia in this book, as Riad Sattouf unfolds his childhood with humour and tenderness. It’s the beginning of the Syrian War in 2011 that urged Riad Sattouf to write The Arab of The Future,  and this book is not only a memoir, it is also a beautiful tribute to a country and to its inhabitants.

I also really appreciated Riad Sattouf’s drawing style in this graphic novel: the drawing itself is simple, quite ‘childish’ if you will (which fits perfectly with the narrative point of view!) and each country has its own colour code. What happens in Libya is drawn in yellow, France is blue and Syria is pink. There are also occasional strokes of red and green to emphasize objects linked to fiction or imagination, or dictatorship’s symbols.

I’m gonna leave you with a few excerpts from the book, which I found online. I hope they’ll convince you to pick up The Arab of The Future if you’ve not been convinced by my review!

The Arab of The Future by Riad Sattouf. Published by Two Roads (Hodder & Stoughton), 2016. Original version published by Allary Éditions, 2014

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