The first volume of Riad Sattouf’s graphic memoirs will admirably scratch the itch of anyone who enjoyed either of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis books. If you want a book that gives you a glimpse of a world that may be unfamiliar to you, shot through with the kind of satire you’d no doubt expect given that the author also writes for the now infamous Charlie Hebdo, The Arab of the Future is for you.
The book charts Sattouf’s life from roughly the age of two to roughly the age of eight, following in the wake of his French mother and his dominant Syrian father who drags his family first to Libya (under Gaddafi) and then to Syria (under Hafez al-Assad). Riad himself is a fairly strange looking kid, at least for the world in which he finds himself, with long flowing blonde locks that eventually see him bullied by the neighbourhood kids (including members of his extended family).
In addition to the window Sattouf offers on his childhood (the way in which property is considered free in Libya, to the extent that you can’t really go out for fear of losing your home and you are forbidden from attaching locks, although Riad’s family eventually do that), which recalls the work of Guy Delisle, the narrative also charts the gradual erosion of Riad’s father’s more westernised views, and the concomitant (and again ever so gradual) subjugation of his wife. Sattouf is also canny enough to provide a wider political context for what Riad sees as a child but in a subtle and nuanced way such that, if you want to read this as the story of a child who grew up in a world that may be different to your own, that’s ok; but if you want to try and understand why the world is the way it is today, there are clues for the more eagle-eyed reader too.
Any Cop?: All told, The Arab of the Future is a really sturdy first instalment of what promises to be a longer work – and there is more than enough here to guarantee we’ll be at the front of the queue when that second book appears.