Tuesday, October 26

Esther’s Notebooks by Riad Sattouf: Fantastically Bold | Comics and Graphic Novels

Riad Sattouf is best known in the UK for its brilliant memories The Arab of the future (Although perhaps not well known enough: its British publisher has inexplicably chosen not to publish the last two volumes of the series). But in his native France, his fame is equally based on Esther’s Notebooks, a collection of full-length stories that has sold over 1 million copies (it has also been made into an animated television series). It is not too difficult to find out why. Don’t be fooled by what at first seems naive, even cute. These fun and well-observed comics are fantastically daring. They have a lot to say about the experience of being a girl in a European city in the 21st century, and if not all of this makes reading comfortable, it is also what makes them indispensable. Fathers! You and your daughters should read them together.

Esther’s Notebooks started life as a strip in the news magazine L’Obs, no way some way to explain his agile pace and gadabout. But the most important factor is that Sattouf based them on conversations with a friend’s daughter: they reflect his moods, worries and whims, all of which, given his age, tend to be fleeting; he’s just her Boswell. And herein lies his genius. Sattouf takes this little girl and, by extension, Esther, the character she inspired, very seriously. Whether you’re describing the boredom of school (who is this “dolphin” named Charles who wants to be king?), His favorite smell (a new iPhone case), or the low-level racism and sexual harassment in the yard. from school (it all starts so painfully early), his biographer is all ears. If it matters to her, it matters to him.

'Sattouf takes this girl very seriously'
“Sattouf takes this girl very seriously.”

Each collection has 52 strips: a year of Esther’s life (five have been published in France, following her until she was 14). In this one, he is 10 years old. He lives in the 17th arrondissement of Paris with his mom, dad, and annoying older brother, Antoine. She has two friends named Eugenie and one named Cassandra, and the children are the nightmare of her life, especially Mitchell, who runs upright “like a robot.” On the other hand, it’s nice to get the attention of a popular guy like Louis, who you hope to be with “for eternity” (you definitely won’t be). Esther’s likes include pizza and dancing (her great ambition is to be “blonde and flexible”). Among her dislikes are flies and sometimes the richer of the two Eugenies.

Each page of Esther’s Notebooks it is autonomous – usually there is a good punchline – but read them all and you will see that Sattouf has drawn a portrait of a generation: its hopes, dreams and cultural references; the way their personalities, backgrounds (many of the children portrayed have immigrant parents), and preconceptions about sexuality begin to manifest even before they start high school. The result is a bit like a cartoon version of Michael Apted’s historic television series, Above – even though I hope and pray that the esteemed Pushkin Press does not keep us waiting seven years for the English translation of 11-year-old Esther.

Esther’s Notebooks: Tales of my ten-year life by Riad Sattouf (translated by Sam Taylor) is published by Pushkin Press (£ 12.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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