Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Alpha – Bessora and Barroux

Alpha - Bessora & Barroux (translated: Sarah Ardizzone)
Alpha is a book I would have on my coffee table, my reception area table, the boardroom table, the canteen, and definitely in every classroom or library: big, bold, great to look at, immediately immersive, whichever pages you are flicking through and something that I want everyone to see.

This is the story of Alpha, a cabinet maker who journeys from Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire, Africa) to meet his family at the Gare Du Nord (Paris, France, Europe).  Along the way, he compares himself to a backpacking adventurer, although without a visa and dwindling cash, he finds that most other people regard him as an illegal immigrant.

Alpha tells his story the way I might tell a story about going for a walk to the shop to buy bread and milk, stopping along the way to have a chat with a friend or to help someone cross a road.  The tone is stoic, and while Alpha calmly relates an everyday story, of course, it is not a sunny walk to buy bread and in many places, the novel spills over with a gentle but necessarily wry humour.

One of the most striking aspects about Alpha, for me, is the way the reader slips so comfortably into Alpha’s shoes. As a character, he is so familiar, and the answers to questions about who is an ‘ex-pat’ and who is an ‘adventurer’ and who is a ‘tourist – and who is an ‘illegal immigrant’ – are made so very clear. This is the real refugee crisis, beautifully told.

Big, bold sketchy illustrations add colour to the translated text (from French to English by Sarah Ardizzone) and make this an eye-catching graphic novel for everybody.

I don’t know if this is a fiction or a non-fiction novel. I think it’s a fiction but perhaps that’s the point: it is so many people’s stories rolled into one. There’s a wonderful website with lots of additional and engaging resources that explore the issues and the places in Alpha’s story: .

Alpha has won the English Pen Award, the Prix Medecins San Frontieres, is endorsed by Amnesty International and has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal. It gets the thumbs up from me too.

Publication details: 2016, The Bucket List, Edinburgh, paperback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

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