by Riad Sattouf. Metropolitan Books, November 2019. 288 p. ill. ISBN 9781250150660 (paperback), $30.00.

Reviewed June 2020
Vaughan Hennen, Digital Design and Access Librarian, Dakota State University, vaughanhennen@gmail.com

arab of the future 4 cover

The fourth volume of Riad Sattouf’s acclaimed autobiographical series, Arab of the Future, follows Sattouf through early adolescence between 1987 and 1992. This issue documents the growing chasm between Sattouf’s mother and father and the internal conflict he, as a young person, faces. His mother represents the modern life of late 1980s to early 1990s France and his father the ultra-religious, rural life in Syria of the same time period. Throughout the book, the family goes back and forth from Syria until Sattouf’s mother puts her foot down, leaves Syria, and moves Sattouf and his two brothers to Cap Fréhel to live with her mother and her mother’s new husband.

Throughout the book, Sattouf documents his father’s shift, becoming more religious. Sattouf’s father constantly berates the French people and is increasingly antisemetic, misogynistic, and racist. His mother and father constantly argue about money, and his father always promises to build a villa and a nice car but he never follows through. Additionally, his father’s ego always hinders his children’s educational success. In all, this book documents a final volume of a couple growing apart: a woman seeking liberation, freedom, and a modern life for her children, and a father who grows more conservative, paranoid, and aggressive toward his wife and children.

Sattouf masterfully writes the story line and draws the art. Each phase between France and Syria is documented with various back wash colors: red for time spent in Syria and blue for time spent in France. Sattouf’s use of expression in each panel, especially the time documenting the events taking place in Syria, show a unique depiction of his story, from the Syrian scenery of excessive heat and eroding infrastructure to the wetness of the French Countryside to the simple facial expressions of his various teachers in both France and Syria. Sattouf also fabulously depicts both Arabic and French languages with different dialects and his re-adoption of each language when he is jostled back and forth from Syria to France.

This volume would be a great purchase for both academic and public libraries. It shows how an autobiographical series can be created and illustrated by a singular author; and how storylines can be differentiated by a simple change in color.