The Arab of the Future

(text & illus.). Metropolitan: Holt. Oct. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9781627793445. pap. $26. GRAPHIC NOVELS
When Riad's Syrian father shows his son how to draw a Mercedes, he insists that the wheels are rectangular—one of many disjunctures between dogma and reality observed by the small child. Although Riad is born in France to a French mother, the family relocates to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya and then Bashar al-Assad's Syria, where despite idealistic propaganda, buildings crumble, food is scarce, squatters displace residents, trash and human waste are everywhere, and his father's dreams for pan-Arab sovereignty are obviously delusionary. Public cruelty dominates daily life: his cousins attack him, children torture puppies, hanged criminals dangle in public, and women eat the men's leftovers. Yet filmmaker/cartoonist Sattouf (Pascal Brutal) remembers fondly the smell of sweat and the taste of Syrian foods. His blobby characters and pastel halftones contrast ironically with the sometimes-grim content.
VERDICT This snapshot of Middle Eastern countries in perpetual unease bears witness to the complexities of cultural conflict as well as the resilience of people just trying to live, perhaps coping by accepting misinformation simply to keep up hope. A solid read for students of culture clash and international affairs, high school and up.
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