Review by Frank Plowright
An actual 2001 earthquake in the Peruvian city of Arequipa supplies the starting point for Zidrou’s funny slice of life drama. The real death toll is significantly ramped up for dramatic purposes, as a French couple in their forties and unable to have children adopt a young Peruvian orphaned by the disaster.
Cleverly, as shown by the cover, the story is primarily told from the point of view of new grandparents Gabe and Rysette, and their time with Qinaya, with Rysette completely buying into her son and daughter in law’s choice, while Gabe remains stubbornly doubtful. Everything is set up for the cinematic fantasy of the grumpy old guy being won over by the charm and innocence of the new arrival, and while that path is followed, it’s not anywhere near as sentimentally handled as it would be in Hollywood and holds plenty of surprises. For starters, Gabe was a butcher by trade and when he and his fellow retired shopkeepers get together the discussions are refreshingly crude and earthy, and when he becomes too whiny Rysette is always there with a reality check.
While Zidrou (Benoît Drousie) supplies the staging, the charms are amplified by Arno Monin’s carefully considered art. His well designed characters are easily distinguished, and even though there’s a lot to pack into every page, Monin takes no shortcuts. Brief scenes such as the introduction of a detective are beautifully crafted, and his careworn Gabe has a real gravitas. It’s easy to imagine the latter day Richard Dreyfuss cast as Gabe.
The Adoption combines what was originally published as two volumes in France, and toward the end of the first it seems as if Zidrou’s going to let sentimentality get the better of him, but he’s a step ahead of expectation and drops a major surprise to set up the second part. This is primarily set in Peru, and takes Gabe well away from his comfort zone. It’s a real sea change, a complete shock, and Zidrou provides an entirely different mood also, more introspective and although remaining good-humoured, no longer funny. While Gabe has justification for feeling sorry for himself, he meets someone else whose problems put his into perspective. As they bond we learn more about Gabe’s son Alain, while plenty of unexpected wisdom is passed on, questions about life in general are raised and everyone learns a little about Peru.
It’ll take a stone heart not to shed a tear at the end, by which time Gabe has come to terms with a complete change in his life for a third time, but expanded his horizons further than ever before. It’s a real rarity that an older person is the leading character, and the poignancy and sensitivity of Gabe’s experiences prompts wonder as to why that is. The Adoption confounds expectation to provide a memorable read.