Title: The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984
Author: Riad Sattouf
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Genre: Graphic Memoir
I had chanced upon this graphic novel, just by surfing, as I chance upon most of my reads. I read stuff on the internet and then pick and choose by reads. Like most reads that I come across this way and read it this year – the first book of 2016 and what a way to kick-start the year!
“The Arab of the Future” is a graphic memoir of Riad Sattouf and is the first in the two part series. It is about his childhood spent in Libya, France and Syria – and how he and his family kept shuffling between these three places. It is about the confusion that Riad goes through as a child, given the different cultures and perspectives. It is almost as if it is the miseducation of a child in an Arab world. It is world where little boys defecate on streets, women have no voice, stray dogs are killed with pitchforks and where religion is of supreme importance and you are definitely in for trouble if you aren’t Muslim.
Riad Sattouf, a French-Syrian cartoonist has drawn just more than what seems to be a graphic memoir on the surface. It is a juxtaposition of values and how each culture is and what they stand for. Riad’s Arabic father believes in a lot things that his French born and raised mother does not and in all of this there is Riad, trying to make sense of the worlds he has been thrown into – where his relatives on both sides seem to be very different and act differently as well. He cannot figure what is going on and is forever confused as he makes his way and understands the world a little better.
For me while reading this book, a new world opened – that of Sunnis and Shias (though the discussion points about this aspect are few), about Israel and Palestine and what is the conflict all about (again this is briefly touched upon) and how even family members deal with each other sometimes in the most brutal manner.
The graphic memoir is beautifully illustrated with a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments and indications as you go along. It is done in sepia tones, which you get used to as you turn the pages. I was fascinated with how Riad’s education took place right at home amidst his cousins and their fascination for his toys to how religion politics even affect childhood to a very large extent in these areas – may be that is just how it is with them – catch them young and watch them grow.
The book in a graphic form touches on so many issues that it is difficult at a point to treat it as a graphic novel. You wish he had written a non-fiction text which had more details. “The Arab of the Future” also has a sequel to it which I am most eagerly awaiting – it will take some time given that it will be a translation just like this one. To all graphic novel enthusiasts: Do not skip this one. A must read.