Alpha by Bessora, Barroux and Sarah Ardizzone (translator)

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Alpha by Bessora, Barroux and Sarah Ardizzone (translator)

Bessora Alpha.jpg
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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A politically divisive, but no less striking, look at the migrant situation.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: August 2016
Publisher: The Bucket List
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781911370017

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Longlisted for the 2017 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

It felt like there was boiling water inside my head. To cool it down, I had to leave… Those words aren't spoken by Alpha, the narrator of this graphic novel, but they might have been. Living in Abidjan, on the south coast of Cote d'Ivoire in Africa, he is determined to get out to go to Paris, and a relative's hair salon and a much better life. It's not just the boiling water that is causing him to jump out the frying pan into the unknown fire, but the fact that his wife and son went already, and he's trying to follow in their footsteps. Your feet become your head. Your body obeys them he observes at one point during the ordeal – but there are people smugglers galore, and blind chance to also obey along the way…

It's not really The Bookbag's place to do politics, but you can't pick up this book, or even read about it first, without being aware of the politics involved in the whole content. On one side you have those pointing out the wannabe immigrant wearing a Barcelona football shirt – how poor, third world and removed does that make him?! Yes, the Africa we see here is incredibly disunited (every camp arrived at has a ghettoization according to point of origin), but what, some would say, is our place in preventing Africa from treating her people like that – why should we demand they lessen the treatment they give others, in favour of more lax laws about relocation of people?

Yes, some of this review plays the Devil's advocate.

The politics goes on – note the way the book proves the similarity between the 'immigrant' and the 'expat', before demanding to know why 'illegal' always follows the former, and ultimately settling on calling all such characters 'adventurers'. You'll have already seen from my first paragraph that the book is eminently quotable (further instances – Buses are like people really – they might have wheels, but they're not keen on being displaced; Six years old is on the young side to stop dreaming) but I have to cover the style, presentation and all other aspects to the book's approach.

And what it boils down to is the graphic novel format, stretched a little. This is no comic, in that there are no speech bubbles. Instead every page is image – on the whole two, sometimes perhaps one – with a first-person narrative caption to go with it. There is a page of nothing but script, and three wordless images. I could critique things in that too seldom does the artwork add something not in the words, as in the best graphic novels, but this is an illustrated book of some repute. The imagery is black and white, and quite rough and ready at that, with just the odd colour picked out – a Jerry can here, a fabric there – to give one or two colours to each rectangle.

The script is equally on strong form, as I hope to have given evidence of. What the book boils down to is a common man, and a simple narrative of life in a world where, whatever you aspire to, whatever labours you undertake and to whatever end, there is always someone less naïve than you able to use an exploitative edge. It's that summary that allows a more universal recommendation for this book – it's no good pretending the Mediterranean migrant boat situation is only thought of in one way by us Brits. If anything the book has an edge in being two years old and so unable to really touch on Syria and all that's most recent – this slightly more timeless edge, of a dislocated father and husband, is quite compelling. Whatever your politics.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Barroux showed me his visual prowess before now, with the likes of Line of Fire : Diary of an Unknown Soldier (August, September 1914) by Barroux. We were also impressed by his Welcome, which also looks at the migrant situation.

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Buy Alpha by Bessora, Barroux and Sarah Ardizzone (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Alpha by Bessora, Barroux and Sarah Ardizzone (translator) at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Alpha by Bessora, Barroux and Sarah Ardizzone (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Alpha by Bessora, Barroux and Sarah Ardizzone (translator) at


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