cover image The Arab of the Future 4: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1987–1992

The Arab of the Future 4: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1987–1992

Riad Sattouf, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor. Metropolitan, $27 (282p) ISBN 978-1-250-15066-0

The phenomenal penultimate volume of Sattouf’s epic five-part autobiography takes a dark turn, charting the French-Syrian cartoonist’s descent into puberty in the late 1980s and early ’90s as his family fractures around him. Leaving childhood means leaving a life insulated from the cares and expectations of adults; the relationship between Sattouf’s father and mother is so contemptuous it’s brought out each other’s worst impulses. “I’ve had it up to here with Arabs!” Sattouf’s French-born mother screams during an argument. Meanwhile, Sattouf’s Syrian-born father, once a promising young academic, finds comfort and social acceptance in the embrace of fundamentalist religion and nationalism—which transform him into a misogynist and virulent anti-Semite. Sattouf’s parents now live apart, with his father teaching in Saudi Arabia and sending money to France, where Sattouf, his siblings, and his mother live. As an adolescent, Sattouf is more of a witness to this schism than an active participant, and his concerns center around a growing awareness of his body’s transformation, the loss of his childhood cuteness, and navigating the social politics of middle school. Drawn with broad comedic cartoons, these moments keep the toxic destruction of his family from overwhelming the narrative. Sattouf depicts the disappointments and uncertainties of growing up in a unique multicultural world in a way that’s sometimes tense, sometimes humorous, and always brilliant. (Nov.)