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BD Review: Riad Sattouf's "La Vie Secrète Des Jeunes"

Adrian K Sanders writing for I V Y paris


If you've never been outside of arrondissements 1-7 (and, no, the fringes of adjacent arrondissements don't count), then you've probably seen the Paris that God intended: a shining museum to aesthetics, mode, architecture, gastronomy and all things refined.

But as soon as you realize that Paris isn't all Haussmann buildings and quaint cafes, the important and fascinating world of new Paris emerges.

As great as old Paris was, it isn't quite that way anymore. When you traipse through the 19th, if feels more tabbouleh than crêpe.

But much like an episode of the late 90's sitcom Friends, Paris lore tends to center on the whimsically and fantastical vision of itself  - which is to say, white, bright and terribly skewed.

Just as New York City is a city of clashing and mixing cultures, so to, Paris boasts an overwhelming melange of different walks of life, from West and North Africa to Japan, China and Vietnam. But to capture this multi-layered and complex world of confusing dialects, broken language and cultural differences into a story or essay takes a real delicate level of tact and sensitivity... or, in the case of Riad Sattouf's "La Vie Secrète Des Jeunes," none whatsoever.

For over a year, Riad Sattouf drew a weekly comic strip for the leftist weekly journal Charle Hebdo, which catalogued daily vignettes of his life. The bulk of the vignettes take place in Paris and its environs, and comprised mainly of conversations and moments seen and overheard bySattouf .

These strips capture the tension of everyday Parisian culture, race and gender clashes with remarkable ease. Neither satire nor comedy, these are simply real moments recorded and transcribed into BD by a very attentive cartoonist that happen to be hilarious.

But there's a distinct lack of cynicism or venom to the work. Instead of scolding us or his characters, Sattouf is more prone to point out the ridiculousness of it all. And while one could easily say that Sattouf is at his most critical here in the pages of "La Vie Secrète Des Jeunes ," there is an important charm and warmth to each strip.

There is a sense of fairness to all his caricatures in that no race, class or gender goes unblemished. Noinvididual is above becoming a vignette including Sattouf himself.

Sattouf won't win any prizes for astounding draftsmanship but the lines are clean and the point always comes across. What makes these vignettes shine are the interactions between the characters, and a large part of this success comes from Sattouf's dialog.

Though, if you're a non-native speaker, and words like "meuf" don't mean anything to you, be warned that "La Vie Secrète Des Jeunes" might be a tricky read. Sattouf deconstructs words and spells them out phonetically, depending on the character - for young fast talking teens, phrases like "il y a un chien" turn into "Ya 'n chien," "Parce que" becomes "passeque."

But once you put that all together, Sattouf's take on the French language, and more importantly, how it is evolving and growing in the multi-accented world of Paris is fascinating. This phonetic play on words works very well in the form of BD - where words, for the most part, are actually sounds.

I can personally attest that my understanding of the word genre has now completely changed.

The stories range from the absurd to the mundane, with the inanity of human conversation shining through as the true champion. What struck me most about La Vie Secrète Des Jeunes, is that every single story rang true from the two nerdy guys talking about the apocalypse in the McDonald's, to the fashion-centric egoists that feel that they own the subway (and everything else).

Sattouf peels the slick Disneyland veneer off of Paris, and reveals its depressingly charming and ridiculous underbelly of daily conversation and of human nature.

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