Alpha: Abidjan to Paris

As political debates and news reports on immigration proliferate, rare is empathetic reportage of the actual experiences and desperation these migrants face. French novelist Bessora and illustrator Barroux's graphic novel Alpha: Abidjan to Paris (winner of the English PEN Promotes Award) is that compassionate link, depicting how people risk life and limb in search of limited opportunities.

Unable to secure a visa to Paris despite his grandfather's World War II service for France, Alpha Coulibaly, an impoverished cabinet-maker, leaves Côte d'Ivoire to join his wife and son. They left for Paris two months prior and have not been heard from since. Alpha faces a bleak future if he stays. He sells his business and home to finance the initial leg of his journey to neighboring Mali. To avoid falling into despair, he and his fellow travelers call themselves "adventurers" instead of migrants or refugees. Alpha commits to backbreaking labor and secures passage to the barbed wire fences at Spain's "Little Berlin Wall" border by way of refugee camps, human traffickers and a treacherous crossing by sea.

Bessora conveys Alpha's emotional state with matter-of-fact, clinical efficiency that heightens the despair he comes to regard as part of his soul-sucking journey. Barroux's charcoal drawings, then, offer faint glimmers of hope with rare splotches of red, green and yellow.

"You can't wash away the dust," Bessora writes. "It's not just in the streets--the dust has settled in people's hearts." Alpha: Abidjan to Paris draws a refugee with empathy and compassion, in an effort to lift the dust people's hearts. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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