Having been hot off the tongue at many present at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was mandatory to read the new graphic novel, published by Barrington Stoke. Emotionally raw, it strikes you like a punch, and leaves you humble, and barley standing, but is by all means an important read, even for those not that acquainted with the graphic novel format. It is clearly a stark and despairing story, which depicts the human spirit even in these desperate times.
The story revolves around Alpha Coulibaly, who sets off from his home in Côte d’Ivoire, bound for Paris, where his sister-in-law has a hair salon near the Gare du Nord. With his wife, Patience, and son, Badian, having left for Paris months ago, travelling without visas, and with no word or news on their travels he carries their photograph close to his heart as he crosses the continent. Meeting an unforgettable cast of ‘adventurers’ seeking a better life, he stays close to those that depart with him, seeking kinship in their strive to survive.
Alpha is symbolic of the refugee crisis of today, telling the story of just one of millions on the move, at the mercy of people traffickers, endlessly frustrated, endangered and exploited. With a visa, Alpha’s journey would obviously take just a matter of hours; without one he is adrift for eighteen months. The book’s artwork has been created in cheap felt-tip pen and wash, materials Alpha himself might be able to access. It is a great reflection of the grim bleakness of the tale, and brilliantly evokes the inevitable end for many that attempt to survive by seeking refugee. Barroux is a French graphic artist best known as an illustrator for children, who grew up in Morocco and wanted to create a book representing contemporary Africa. After meeting an African refugee at his workplace in Paris, he decided upon this tale.
The author, Bessora, is a prize-winning French author, bound up to telling such suppressed stories. In telling Alpha, her aim was to create a strong connection between narrator and reader. She says, “Alpha is like your brother, whispering in your ear. You are very close to him. So anyone can identify with Alpha: he raises the question of destiny. Do we take it in hand? What meaning do we give to our life?”
It’s key that this book be read, particularly in such a political climate as we have found ourselves in. It is evidently one to make you feel humble, uncomfortable and send you to shiver in your own skin. Providing such a unpalatable account of survival, through the stages, we are given an up close chronicle of Alpha’s tale, one of the many that attempt to escape their place of conflict, where hope seems sparse. There is no getting away from this tragic migrant’s hardship.