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The Arab of the Future

On sale

7th April 2016

Price: £19.99

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Selected: ebook / ISBN-13: 9781473638129

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The Arab of the Future tells the unforgettable story of Riad Sattouf’s childhood, spent in the shadows of three dictators – Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez al-Assad, and his father.


‘I tore through it… The most enjoyable graphic novel I’ve read in a while’ Zadie Smith
‘I joyously recommend this book to you’ Mark Haddon
‘Riad Sattouf is one of the great creators of our time’ Alain De Botton
‘Beautifully-written and drawn, witty, sad, fascinating… Brilliant’ Simon Sebag Montefiore

In a striking, virtuoso graphic style that captures both the immediacy of childhood and the fervour of political idealism, Riad Sattouf recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi’s Libya, and Assad’s Syria – but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation.

Riad, delicate and wide-eyed, follows in the trail of his mismatched parents: his mother, a bookish French student, is as modest as his father is flamboyant. Venturing first to the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab State and then joining the family tribe in Homs, Syria, they hold fast to the vision of the paradise that always lies just around the corner. And hold they do, though food is scarce, children kill dogs for sport, and with locks banned, the Sattoufs come home one day to discover another family occupying their apartment. The ultimate outsider, Riad, with his flowing blond hair, is called the ultimate insult… Jewish. And in no time at all, his father has come up with yet another grand plan, moving from building a new people to building his own great palace.

Brimming with life and dark humour, The Arab of the Future reveals the truth and texture of one eccentric family in an absurd Middle East, and also introduces a master cartoonist in a work destined to stand alongside Maus and Persepolis.

Translated by Sam Taylor.

‘ENGROSSING’ New York Times
‘A PAGE TURNER’ Guardian


New York Times
Exquisitely illustrated, and filled with experiences of misfortune bordering on the farcical, Mr. Sattouf's book is a disquieting yet essential read
New Yorker
The Arab of the Future has become that rare thing in France's polarized intellectual climate: an object of consensual rapture, hailed as a masterpiece in the leading journals of both the left and the right. . . . it has, in effect, made Sattouf the Arab of the present in France
Alison Bechdel, author of FUN HOME
As the very young Riad Sattouf navigates life in Libya, France, and Syria, he gets a serious education in the mysterious vectors of power that shape not just the political world, but the intimate sphere of his own family. With charming yet powerful drawings and vivid sensory details, Sattouf delivers a child's-eye view of the baffling adult world in all its complexity, corruption, and delusion. This is a beautiful, funny, and important graphic memoir
New Republic
The hundred-and-fifty-odd pages of Riad Sattouf's internationally bestselling graphic memoir . . . move with an irrepressible comic velocity. The book is told Candide-style . . . an indictment of the adult world and its insidious methods of diminishment we all have either faced or been fortunate enough to escape.
Los Angeles Times (Best Books of the Year 2015)
Engaging and lovely to look at . . . Sattouf has an eye for grimly funny details . . . and milks the disjunction between how he experienced his political environment at the time and how he understands it now for all it's worth
Sattouf's work is laced with astute observations of human beings. His memoirs often dwell on their failings: hypocrisy, cowardice, bullying. Yet there's humour too - mainly because his humans are so helplessly absurd
The Arab of the Future is already being compared to biographical classics like Maus and Persepolis, and the modern relevance of the countries in which it is set is sure to make this a widely talked about book this year
New York Journal of Books
The Arab of the Future maintains a balance of comedy and commentary and carried by excellent drawings. Riad Sattouf's work takes its place alongside other classic animated retrospective memoirs from the region, Persepolis . . . and Waltz with Bashir
Le Monde (France)
The Arab of the Future confirms Riad Sattouf's place among the greatest cartoonists of his generation
New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
Engrossing . . . Sattouf writes in a fluid prose, beautifully translated by Sam Taylor
Haaretz (Israel)
In his comics, Sattouf deftly weaves the political background with the everyday. He tells a personal story but also observes the society and country around him, and his great sense of humor makes reading the book thoroughly enjoyable. It'll have you laughing to the point of tears.
Foreign Policy
Sattouf's account of his childhood is a deeply personal recollection of a peripatetic youth that can resonate with audiences across the world. It also paints an incisive picture of the Arab world in the late 1970s and early 1980s that sets the stage for the revolutionary changes that would grip and roil the region decades later.
France 24
Wide-eyed, yet perceptive, the book documents the wanderings of [Sattouf's] mismatched parents? His bookish French mother and pan-Arabist father, Abdel-Razak Sattouf . . . often disquieting, but always honest
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Very funny and very sad . . . the social commentary here is more wistful and melancholy than sharp-edged . . . subtly written and deftly illustrated, with psychological incisiveness and humor
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Despite his father's determination to integrate his son into Arab society, little Sattouf - with his long blond hair - never fully fits in, and this report reads like the curious pondering of an alien from another world. Caught between his parents, Sattouf makes the best of his situation by becoming a master observer and interpreter, his clean, cartoonish art making a social and personal document of wit and understanding.
Guardian (Best Graphic Books of 2015)
Riad Sattouf's shockingly blunt The Arab of the Future, which tells the story of the French cartoonist's itinerant childhood in the Middle East, is a must for anyone who wants to understand more about the failure of the pan-Arab dream, with all the consequences this has had for the situation in which we now find ourselves. It's also a page-turner, dissecting as it does the psychology of a man (Riad's Syrian father) whose increasingly deluded idealism results in a form of tyranny when it comes to his own family.
Frankfurter Allgemeine (Germany)
Rarely I've encountered a more convincing combination of wit and depth
Repubblica (Italy)
Brilliant, sharp and surprising
El Mundo (Spain)
touching, chilling and very instructive
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The book's highest achievement is the ability to portray the tacit power structures that govern family and nation through the eyes of a child, with all of a child's parental worship and bafflement... The Arab of the Future begs for a more complex and compassionate understanding of an area of the world that's all too often the target of misunderstanding and fear.
San Francisco Chronicle (Best of 2015)
Sattouf's timely graphic memoir - a bestseller in France, where he lives - recounts his upbringing in Syria and Libya. Despite the starkness of much of his story, Sattouf maintains a playful touch in all his panels
The book, whose title pokes fun at Abdel-Razak's pan-Arabist obsessions, shows the hypocrisy behind one man's understanding of that failed political ideology, makes tangible the absurdity of living under propaganda-mad dictators, and it humanizes, for better or worse, certain segments of very poor Muslim populations in two specific parts of the Middle East.
Globe and Mail
Sattouf presents timely, candid insights into life behind the curtain in news-making nations - namely, in this case, Libya and Syria... he nails the inexplicable dizziness of being a child
With a judicious eye for an anecdote, and even more judicious doses of commentary, Sattouf - a former contributor to the French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo - delivers a vicious denunciation of pan-Arabism and Islamic politics. It might seem impossible to depict the recent history of the Middle East using Sattouf's zany drawing style... But Sattouf uses this style to establish a subtle and contradictory relationship with his reader. He simultaneously disclaims the reader's attention - No, nothing important going on here - and challenges the discerning few to look closer
Not since Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir of revolutionary Iran, has a comic book seemed so important, or been so acclaimed... There is a feeling that the book throws some light both on the roots of the Arab spring, and what has happened since. In a country - and beyond it, a world - in which bewilderment and anxiety at recent events polarises communities as often as it unites them, it has an authenticity with which no expert or talking head could ever hope to compete.
Excellent... The graphic novel has proved itself again and again. It already has its canon: Art Spiegelman on the Holocaust, Marjane Satrapi on girlhood in Islamist Iran, and, perhaps most accomplished of all, Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza, a work of detailed and self-reflexive history. Edging towards this company comes Riad Sattouf's childhood memoir of tyranny... It's this sort of detail, drawn with the cartoon clarity of childhood perception, that makes the book such a success... The Arab of the Future is an authentic, emotionally honest memoir, and much more useful background reading for present events than a romanticised account of cosmopolitan, bourgeois Damascus would be.
Riven with flashes of dark humour... The penmanship is simple and witty, oddly it reminded me of Matt in the Telegraph. Despite writing for Charlie Hebdo, Sattouf had never been an overtly political cartoonist and yet in The Arab of The Future he has said more about the problems of the Arab world than a hundred newspaper articles. The story ends in 1984 with the family about to return to Syria. The sequel is already out in France with an English edition to come in September. I can't wait.
Epic... Told with childlike wonder and the merest hint of mature understanding, it's a wide-eyed and unforgettable tour of the early days of Muammar Gaddafi's Libya and Hafez al-Assad's Syria (via rural Brittany), as Sattouf's professor father pursues an unbridled ambition to help build a proud Arab nation through the power of education.
Anna James, A Case for Books
Fascinating... A really moving and at times quite melancholy story of an odd childhood. I'm really looking forward to reading Volume 2 in September
Herald (Paperback of the Week)
Marvellous... Sattouf records it all in an endearing cartoony style, his clean lines enhanced by discreet colour shading to indicate which country they're living in at the time. His comic timing is immaculate, but there's always an edge to his humour. Packing a host of unforgettable scenes, The Arab of the Future begs to be read in one long sitting.
Sheila O'Reilly, Dulwich Books
Captivating, compelling, informative and an amazing read... Using his voice as a child, Saffouf deals with the topics such as Arabs v Jews, America and the Western Influences, the madness of Gaddafi, racism in France and the general treatment of women. With these topics one might think it's a heavy read but by telling his life in graphic format is ingenious and powerful... An important book. I will be recommending this to all our customers, a must read.
Gary Perry, Foyles Staff Pick
Drawn with remarkable flair and a winning visual style, Sattouf's memoir is an incredible achievement. The Arab of the Future took me to places that, until now, I only really knew through headlines. Vital, funny and poignant, it's Sattouf's focus on the common aspects of childhood that gives this book so much punch
Comics Grid
Sattouf's book takes us from place to place and culture to culture, and in the emphasis of differences there is also the unveiling of similarities... Sattouf retells, with words and images, the heartbreaking realisation of the non-place in which many immigrants are forced to exist... Sattouf's book is challenging amongst other reasons because it deals with the most demonised, othered identity in Europe. Because the narrative takes the characters from country to country, language to language and culture to culture, the narrative perspective is necessarily comparative, and because things are never black and white, either/or, often the conclusions are contradictory... There is a loneliness in all of Sattouf's characters, who, often, do not really talk to each other, but to themselves, or keep a repressed/repressive silence. In the constant coming and going of the trial and error from country to country, the immigrant's story is, in spite of the presence of family, one of solitude, but moved forward by hope... In this sense The Arab of the Future is a profoundly political and timely book... The present historical moment in Europe calls more than ever for exercises of solidarity and empathy: in retelling his past Sattouf is not merely retreating into himself, but telling us very important things about the historical past, present and possible futures of us all.
Hari Kunzru
Riad Sattouf's poignant memoir is the record of a single, unique life, but it's one of those 'single windows' through which the world is made newly visible. It's worth a shelf full of books about identity politics, history or political science.
Mark Haddon
I joyously recommend this book to you. You will be moved, entertained and edified. Often simultaneously
Lonesome Reader
Absolutely mesmerising...The Arab of the Future is a tremendously engaging story of family life. It's also a fascinating personal insight into differing cultural attitudes, the physical reality of living under two distinct Arab leaders and how national/social/religious ideologies filter through the consciousness of a wide-eyed adolescent. It's a heartfelt, refreshing take on growing up in unique circumstances.
Posy Simmonds
The Arab of the Future is wonderfully observed, funny, grim, sharp and sad. Riad Sattouf, with his ear for anecdote, his nimble drawing and his understanding of human frailty, has created a masterpiece.
Alain De Botton
This is a masterpiece that deserves the widest readership. The Arab Of The Future reminds us that, in talented hands, graphic novels are capable of carrying the weightiest themes, making us think, and touching our hearts while also keeping us hugely entertained. Riad Sattouf is one of the great creators of our time'
Zadie Smith
I tore through two volumes of The Arab of the Future, by Riad Sattouf - it's the most enjoyable graphic novel I've read in a while
The Culture Trip
An important introduction to the Middle East... This recently-published graphic memoir proves that the medium can be just as important - and informative - as traditional non-fiction for those looking to understand a complex region... At once touching and humorous...Whether you're looking for a diverting read or a first-person account of modern history, The Arab of the Future is a must-read.
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Beautifully-written and drawn, witty, sad, fascinating... Brilliant
The Slings and Arrows
Absorbing ... rich in detail and character ... a remarkable and engrossing book
Sattouf experienced both Gaddafi's Libya and Hafez al-Assad's Syria while still a small boy. Kids don't spend a lot of time reflecting on totalitarianism, but they do form strong impressions. His simple depictions of living in an almost-abandoned building for expatriates in Libya, or of watching Assad praying on TV are the kind of banal micro-details that would lose their significance in written prose. Captured in the panels of a cartoon strip, however, they attain a luminous resonance that lingers long after you've finished the book.