In celebration of National Translation Month, for this week’s Illustrated PEN Guest Editor Meg Lemke presents excerpts from Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by artists Bessora and Barroux, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone.
Lemke writes: “I’ve run out of credit,” says Alpha, on the opening pages of the refugee’s journey as imagined and illustrated by Bessora and Barroux; he hasn’t spoken to his wife and son since they left Abidjan for Paris. Did they reach their destination? He plans to follow them. Based on true stories and author Bessora’s extensive research, the diary-esque graphic novel is drawn in simple but evocative lines and spot colors by Barroux in a limited palette of markers, which the artist bought cheaply in a pack, imagining how one traveler might try to document their life. Alpha’s alternating optimism and terror, frank expression of his will to survive and pursue his family, are starkly depicted, with a cast of fellow searchers he meets along the circuitous way. The international refugee crisis is given a singular expression in this affecting work, which was published with the support of Amnesty International and received the PEN Promotes Award and Doctors Without Borders Prize.
Bessora is an award-winning author of Swiss, German, French, Polish, and Gabonese heritage, whose work has been anthologized in Best European Fiction and has received the Fénéon Prize and Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noire. Raised in Europe, America, and Africa, she has traveled extensively and her fiction is underpinned by extensive research and her training as an anthropologist. Alpha is her first graphic novel. She lives in Paris.
Barroux was born in Paris and spent much of his childhood in North Africa. After studying photography, art, sculpture, and architecture, he worked as an art director in Paris and Montreal before beginning his career as an illustrator. His work includes the children’s book Where’s the Elephant?, longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, and the graphic novel Line of Fire, based on the diary of an unknown soldier from the First World War. His illustrations have also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Forbes. He lives in Paris.
Sarah Ardizzone is an award-winning translator from the French. She is the translator of the graphic novel Alpha and over forty other titles including The Little Prince Graphic Novel, a New York Times Notable Book. Ardizzone has twice won the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation. She also curates educational programs, including Translation Nation, Translators in Schools, and the Spectacular Translation Machine. She lives in London.
Excerpt from Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, and translated by Sarah Ardizzone. French text and illustrations copyright © 2014 Gallimard. Translation copyright © 2016 Sarah Ardizzone. Published by Bellevue Literary Press: www.blpress.org. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.