The first two books by French cartoonist and former Charlie Hebdo contributor Riad Sattouf introduced readers to family life in a repressive authoritarian regime through the wide-eyed innocence of a child. The third Arab of the Future volume opens with the continuing indoctrination of a now seven-year-old Riad.
In learning to conform and survive, Riad has emerged as meaner and increasingly desensitized to the everyday trials of his village existence. A manipulative streak has replaced his naïveté, and he begins to emulate the behaviors of the boys and men around him. Meanwhile, Clementine, Riad's disillusioned French mother, withdraws into a world of jigsaw puzzles. She is angry about their inferior living conditions and demands that Abdel, Riad's father, move to the city for its modern comforts. Abdel stalls as he wrestles with the conflicting divide between family traditions and his Western education, professing dedication to his conservative Islamic roots while simultaneously mocking its old-fashioned ways. And young Riad is caught between his father's stubborn dogmatism and his mother's growing intolerance of those views.
Sattouf draws with an appealing, simple style that heightens the conflicts between Eastern and Western influences, and magnifies the cruelties and violence that Sattouf witnesses. The maturing Riad begins to see cracks in his parent's marriage and observes the corrupting influence that Syrian politics has on his doting but morally challenged father. Abdel fails to bully his wife into the submissive obedience expected in his cultural circle, and he resorts to groveling and lying instead to earn that elusive respect. Riad will learn what it means to be a man in turbulent 1980s Syria, even if achieving that manhood threatens to betray his own beliefs and values. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant