News / Arts & Entertainment

Writer Captures Flavor of Life in Multicultural Ivory Coast

Writer Captures Flavor of Life In Multicultural Ivory Coasti
August 12, 2013 9:25 PM
A series of French comic books set in the West African country of Ivory Coast has captivated readers both in Africa and overseas. Now, the film Aya de Yopougon has just been released in French movie houses and will soon be shown in the Ivorian economic capital of Abidjan. Film's author, Marguerite Abouet, a French-Ivorian writer is presently living in France. Lisa Bryant has more.
Lisa Bryant
A series of French comic books set in the West African country of Ivory Coast has captivated readers both in Africa and overseas. Now, the film Aya de Yopougon has just been released in French movie houses and will soon be shown in the Ivorian economic capital of Abidjan. French-Ivorian author Marguerite Abouet wrote Aya and currently lives in the suburbs of Paris.

In the movie the viewer travels to the Ivorian city of Abidjan in the 1970s to get caught up in the lives of Aya, Bintu, Fanta and Ignace…and all the other colorful characters living in the ethnically-mixed neighborhood of Yopougon.

The characters are the stars of a series of comic books - and now the new movie.

"I deliberately chose Muslim and Christian names for my characters, because I had the chance of living in Yopougon, and in Ivory Coast. Abidjan was the crossroads of West Africa at the time. Everything passed through the country. And my neighbors could be a Muslim who had married a Baoulé [one of Ivory Coast's many ethnic groups], and so in a single household you could have very different names," said Abouet.
A collaboration with French illustrator Clement Oubrerie, the Aya books are about daily life in Yopougon: the loves, the heartaches, the ambitions and the setbacks. They also touch on sensitive issues like homosexuality and infidelity.

The Aya series has become a best-seller both in Ivory Coast and in France, Abouet's adopted home. The film Aya de Yopougon was released in French cinemas in July.

In some ways the real Cinderella story is Abouet herself: the little girl from Yopougon who made it big in Paris. Abouet says she did not grow up in a bookish household, but story-telling was a family tradition.
"During vacations we would go to the village where our grandparents lived, with all our cousins. We had no electricity or running water. Our grandfather was our television. Every evening he'd gather us all around a big fire and tell us stories," she said.
Abouet brought those stories with her to France. As the only African in her class, it was her way of fitting in. Later, she began jotting down memories of her childhood in Yopougon. They became material for a series of children's books.
"I started to write down the stories so I wouldn't forget them. It was important for me to remember all of my stories, because I felt I was so far from home, so far from my parents, that I was afraid to forget them," said Abouet.
The colors and smells of Abouet's Yopougon also permeate the Aya series, although this time, the fictional characters are adults. For French publishing house Gallimard Jeunesse, the stories were a first foray into comic books, or graphic novels.
"It was completely original, completely exotic. We were able to discover the insider's Africa," said Gallimard editor Thierry Laroche. "And it wasn't talking about negative things - war or sickness. It doesn't mean hiding these problems, but talking about Africans and how they live."
The Aya comic books have attracted a diverse fan club in both Africa and France. Thirty-four-year-old Edia Aikessi, who bought a ticket to see the Aya movie in Paris, grew up in Abidjan.
"The books bring back the atmosphere of the city, the expressions, the dishes people eat, all the smells. It's really Abidjan for me, and they're funny and very well drawn," said Aikessi.
Years of conflict have scarred and impoverished Ivory Coast and the Yopougon of Abouet's childhood. But the author salutes the endurance of Ivorians living through those dark times - especially the mothers. The Aya movie is a tribute to them.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley












Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”