Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Arab of the Future

The Arab of the Future A Childhood in the Middle East 1978-1984 is a graphic memoir by Riad Sattouf covering his life from birth through age 6.  It recounts his childhood in Libya, France and Syria in the 1970s and 1980s and is written from his perspective.  Sattouf is a former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

The book opens with his French mother Clementine and Syrian father Abdul-Razak meeting in France where both were in school at the Sorbonne.  It was not love at first sight but they eventually married and graduated.  His father had received his doctorate in history and accepted a job as an assistant professor in Libya where the family then moved.

Both mother and son stood out from their neighbors because of their blonde hair and were thought by most to either be American or Jewish.  Riad took notice of the Gaddafi regime's provocations toward Israel and America and had to deal with food shortages as well as the cultural differences between France and Libya.  When Gaddafi ordered people of different social statuses to switch jobs his father started looking for a new position. After two years in Libya they returned to France for the summer and then traveled to Syria where his father had been hired as an assistant professor at a university.

In Syria Riad suffered abuse from his cousins because they thought he was Jewish due to his blonde hair.  He saw a country in ruins and posters of Hafez al-Assad everywhere.  Again, Riad had to deal with a new culture.  The family returned to France for the summer to visit with Clementine's parents and then went back to Syria.  It is here that the story ends with a promise that the story will be continued in another book.

While the artwork consists of basic black and white line drawings there are alternating color schemes for the different locations of the author's life. France is light blue, Libya is yellow and Syria is light pink.

The name of the book was inspired by the author's father who said that he was trying to raise his son to be an arab of the future, one that would get an education to escape religious dogma.  His father, while educated, was sexist, racist and an anti-semite despite himself being an arab of the future.  He treated his wife abysmally and I have to wonder why she stayed married to him.

The Arab of the Future shows the Arabic mindset and was educational for me. The story was not as compelling to me as other graphic novels but I am still looking forward to reading the sequels to this novel.

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