L’Arabe du futur 3 by Riad Sattouf

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Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Memoir, graphic novel

Medium: French paperback

Synopsis: Riad is a small, white-passing child whose hair is a beautiful gold color.  He wants to be a doctor when he grows up, and he’s not very enthusiastic about having a little brother.  He also lives in Syria.  Riad is just beginning school where he’s facing the difficulties of learning to read in a completely different language, as well as the possibility of being punished with a swift smack on the hands with a baton.  He’s hoping to fit in, but most of the kids his age thinks he’s Jewish–something that’s not taken very well in these parts.  His parents are having difficulties, what with his father (Syrian) working as a professor and having generally a good time, and his mother (French) staying at home cooking, cleaning, and having a hard time adjusting.  In this tome, Riad gets a circumcision, a new little brother is introduced to the family, Riad’s father must choose between passing an influential student or failing him, and Riad’s mother wants to leave the Middle East altogether.

Review: This tome is one of the most compelling yet for little Riad’s story.  His troubles seem gigantic–sometimes more troubling that those of the less fortunate–but that’s all due to perspective.  Riad faces two main obstacles in this tome: getting a circumcision, and dealing with jealousy of now not only one but two little brothers.

His parents, on the other hand, have more adult-sized problems.  His mother is pregnant again, and decides she wants to leave Syria for good.  His father struggles with being recognized at his work, and keeping his wife happy.

Riad is content being wherever–he goes to school in France, and finds that school there is much easier than that in Syria (and the teacher doesn’t smack the students)!  And, he’s even more happy to be seen as a Muslim, or at the very least, not a Jewish person.  This tome goes even more in-depth with the anti-semitism ideology in Syria, as well as what it means to be a child who’s constantly on the move.

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L’Arabe du futur 2 by Riad Sattouf

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Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Memoir, graphic novel

Medium: French paperback

Synopsis: Riad is a small, white-passing child whose hair is a beautiful gold color.  He wants to be a doctor when he grows up, and he’s not very enthusiastic about having a little brother.  He also lives in Syria.  Riad is just beginning school where he’s facing the difficulties of learning to read in a completely different language, as well as the possibility of being punished with a swift smack on the hands with a baton.  He’s hoping to fit in, but most of the kids his age thinks he’s Jewish–something that’s not taken very well in these parts.  His parents are having difficulties, what with his father (Syrian) working as a professor and having generally a good time, and his mother (French) staying at home cooking, cleaning, and having a hard time adjusting.  In this tome, Riad studies hard, makes new friends, meets people in high places, and overhears the story of a murder in the family.

Review: This tome is just as good as the first.  Sattouf continues to introduce new information to us as the new information is introduced to him as a small child, which makes learning about Syria, Libya, their cultures, and their histories informative and fun.

Riad still faces troubles with being called Jewish (which is not a good thing in those parts), his mother still faces troubles with adjusting to her new life, and his father still faces troubles with reconciling his nostalgia with the current state of his living situation.

Sattouf finds just the right tone between explanatory and humorous to show the reader just what life was like for him.  Sometimes, his life was just like any other little boy’s–playing with his friends and wandering around town–but sometimes his life was unlike anything I could have even imagined.  And, with the perspective of little 7-year-old Riad, we are able to understand the difficulties in his parents’ marriages and the state of the countries in which they live.

Sattouf expertly takes the difficult subject of living as a cultural (French) and racial (white-passing) outsider in a foreign country (which, let’s be honest, white folks tend to find rather frightening), and makes it not only easy for us to understand, but easy for us to find juxtaposition and humor as well.    This is why L’Arabe du futur series is something that I would recommend to everybody who loves either history, memoirs, or graphic novels.

L’Arabe du futur/The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf

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Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Memoir, graphic novel

Medium: French paperback

Synopsis: As a child, Riad was born with a charming smile and beautiful gold locks of hair.  But, when his father moves his family to Syria, little Riad goes through a tidal wave of culture shock.  His parents met in France, the mother being British, and the father being Syrian.  Riad’s father is excited to go back to a place he recognizes, and his mother is willing to discover and learn about this new place.  But, quite obviously, Syria is a place vastly different than what Riad and his mother are used to, and he sticks out like a sore thumb.  How will little Riad ever adjust?

Review: Because French is my second language, I thought that I’d finish this in a couple days.  However, I’m happy to say that I read it all in one day, and I only had to use the dictionary twice!  What this means, for a graphic novel, is that Sattouf’s pictures go wonderfully with his words, and that they likely add meaning for the native French speaker, and provide meaning for French language learners.  And, speaking about pictures, I have to say that this Charlie Hebdo artist certainly knows what he’s doing!  While his art style may be simplistic (minimalistic–not dull!), he utilizes symbols, repeated actions, and motifs to get his point across.

In terms of the story–wow!  I’m definitely queuing up some Wikipedia posts about Syrian and Libyan history so I can better understand the setting in the second and third books.  His story telling was absolutely phenomenal, and I’m thankful to my multicultural literature teacher in college, as well as the professor who taught a class in analyzing graphic novels and comics.

Sattouf uses sentimental contrast to show how each character feels about their situation.  Most obviously, I feel, is Riad’s contrast, where he is a beautiful, blond child who goes to a country where folks have much darker skin and hair than he does.  Now, being used to his Syrian father and who is now experiencing friendship with Syrian children, Riad is comfortable around those who don’t look like him.  But, some playground bullies have a harder time with Riad: he’s the only one they’ve seen that looks so utterly different from them.  Riad struggles with this for a lot of the book, especially since the playground bulliest are his cousins.

His father goes through similar sentimental contrasts–however his is much more complicated, comparing the setting from the present to the past.  In short, nostalgia is a liar, and things aren’t as good as he thought.  In all honesty, I could write an entire essay about Riad’s father and his experiences, but I won’t!  Yet.

Ultimately, this book is a beautiful depiction of what it means to be uprooted, but to have your family fall so into place at the same time.  This is an incredible metaphor for la mestiza, a term coined by Gloria Anzaldua, where one exists between two spaces, constantly being influenced by the other.  Riad cannot be fully Syrian in public life, thanks to his French upbringing, but he cannot be fully French at home, thanks to the influence he has in his Syrian public life.  It’s a complicated story full of complicated feelings, and Sattouf pulls it off flawlessly.

 

Les Derniers jours de Rabbit Hayes/The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, Hurt/Comfort

Medium: French paperback

Synopsis: Rabbit Hayes has been battling breast cancer for quite some time, and now it’s finally settled into her bones.  She only has a few days left to live, and her friends and family are taking it just about as well as you’d expect.  Some are looking for divine intervention, some are looking for experimental treatments, and some are learning how to say goodbye quicker than they ever thought they would.  But what about Rabbit’s parents?  Or her one and only love?  Or her 12-year old daughter?

Review: This book took me a little while to get through, though that’s mostly because I read it in my second language!  Even still, I was able to understand enough for me to understand the general plot, and the heartbreaking instances that follow.  And, for French language learners–this book has a TON of vocabulary that’s useful (and lots of slang, too)!

But let’s talk about the book.  The book in itself is beautiful.  Now, I’ve never had cancer or any other sort of debilitating disease like that, but everything that Mia–nicknamed Rabbit–feels seems true, and raw.  The novel goes between many different points of view, from her parents, to her daughter, to the person she loves, to her confidante.  This way, we can fully understand how each person is dealing with the death of somebody who is so full of happiness and joy.  Not only this, but it switches between present-day and flashbacks, which is necessary to see how and why each character is the way they are.  Not to mention, these flashbacks provide humor at just the right moments!

Overall, I found this book both beautiful and insightful.  It’s a book definitely like no other, and one that I know has touched my heart, and many other’s.