Al­pha: Abid­jan to Paris

Bes­sora Bar­roux (Il­lus­tra­tor) Sarah Ardiz­zone (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - PETER DABBENE

Belle­vue Literary Press (MAY) Hard­cover $24.99 (128pp) 978-1-942658-40-5

In­spired by the sto­ries of refugees, Al­pha is a mov­ing and im­por­tant ac­count of the risks and hard­ships braved by il­le­gal im­mi­grants seek­ing a bet­ter life. A man’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts to re­unite with his fam­ily are the ba­sis of Bes­sora and Bar­roux’s graphic novel.

Al­pha Coulibaly is liv­ing in Abid­jan, a ma­jor city of Côte d’ivoire (Ivory Coast) in Africa. He longs to re­unite with his wife, Pa­tience, and their young son, Ba­dian, who have gone ahead to Paris, where Pa­tience’s sis­ter runs a hair salon. The thin hope of a bet­ter life in Europe is enough for many im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing Al­pha, to brave the daunt­ing le­gal and phys­i­cal ob­sta­cles that stand in the way.

The tale is in­ti­mately told from Al­pha’s point of view, but he also tells the sto­ries of many of the peo­ple he meets along the way, in­clud­ing a small boy trav­el­ing alone, Au­gustin. Al­pha has an en­gag­ing sense of hu­mor and a pos­i­tive out­look through­out, as when he won­ders about the term “il­le­gal im­mi­grant”:

Il­le­gal? What does that even mean? For me, we’re ad­ven­tur­ers. In­di­ana Jones would have died eight times over if he’d had to en­dure what we ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery day. In­deed, Al­pha and his com­pan­ions are faced with a steady stream of life-or-death de­ci­sions: Which smug­gler to trust? Which route to take? How to avoid be­ing de­ported?

Bar­roux’s art is a fine-tip pen wash—one or two sim­ple but af­fect­ing images to a page, mas­ter­fully com­posed.

While im­mi­gra­tion may be a con­tentious po­lit­i­cal is­sue, Al­pha re­minds us of the peo­ple be­hind the head­lines: those who in­habit the smug­glers’ com­part­ments in rick­ety trucks, pay for fake pass­ports, and trust their lives to boats that are barely sea­wor­thy, all in search of a bet­ter fu­ture for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

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