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Persepolis

July 18, 2010

This is only the second graphic novel I’ve picked up, and I fell in love with it. I read it all in one sitting; I laughed, I cried, and at moments, I was speechless with rage. The events in this book were not new to me, but I felt I was looking at them from a fresh perspective, in a way that was more immediate and personal.

The stark black and white drawings seemed deceptively simple at first glance, but they are actually richly detailed and expressive, and the images wedged themselves in my mind more sharply than words could. Is it possible that at my advanced age, I’m about to become a convert to graphic novels? Hmm…

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir guides us through the events surrounding the Islamic Revolution in Iran, starting in 1979. She was about 10 years old when the Shah was overthrown, an event that, after years of harsh oppression, her family celebrated with other Iranians. Marjane Satrapi is of my generation, but I witnessed these events from a great distance, as if I saw them through the wrong end of a telescope. I remember our sadness and anger over the capture of American hostages in the U.S. Embassy — fellow citizens wrenched from their families by shadowy evil-doers. I knew nothing about the fate of Iranians at that time, and I wouldn’t understand until years later why they blamed the U.S. for the actions of their deposed Shah — that simply wasn’t part of our history curriculum. I hope children today are being educated through a wider lens.

Ten-year-old Marjane’s parents are intellectual Marxists — Marxists who drive a Cadillac and have a maid who takes her meals alone in the kitchen. Marjane is beginning to question these inconsistencies, but this is overshadowed by the turmoil all around her. Friends and relatives are escaping the clutches of the Shah’s regime, only to be ensnared by the Islamic Revolution, and the war with Iraq begins.

This book has amazing depth. We are guided through this part of Iran’s history and tutored in the politics and philosophy surrounding these events in a way that’s simple but thought provoking. We’re absorbing these things through the mind of a young girl who’s struggling to understand what’s happening in her world.

Dark images of violence and death blend seamlessly with the story of Marjane’s coming of age, which includes scenes from the schoolyard and her relationship with God; it also offers glimpses of her adolescent rebellion and her love of Western music and clothes. With few words needing to be said, we intensely feel the love among her family members and friends. We experience the constant fear and paranoia, as the vise of the new regime closes around them. Yet there are moments that are surprisingly funny. All this combines to create a story that is heart-wrenching, humorous, and rich in food for thought.

As soon as I finished this, I immediately reserved Persepolis II and the movie adaptation of Persepolis at the library. I am hoping I can involve my family in reading the books or watching the film with me. I am salivating over the potential for discussion — about contemporary history, our country’s role in Mideast history, and life in a theocracy. Religious freedom is something we blessedly take for granted, though there are ripples in the U.S. urging us to replace secular law with “God’s law.” This book also offers potential for discussion about how childhood can be shaped by fear and violence and also by courage and love.

These Books May Also Be Of Interest: reading Lolita in Tehran; The Rooftops of Tehran

Read More Reviews: Eclectic/Eccentric; Caribousmom; Small World Reads; Good Books and Wine

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2010 2:16 am

    I really want to read this one! Isn’t it such a different, but sort of enlightening, experience reading graphic novels!? Reading something like this would be a great way to educate too. That’s a great idea to discuss it with your family!

    • July 19, 2010 12:13 pm

      I agree, Jenny, it is a different (and enlightening experience) reading graphic novels. πŸ™‚

  2. July 18, 2010 2:47 am

    The movie version of “Persepolis” for me fails to stack up to the two graphic novels, which rank among my limited canon of favorites. I sorta liked it, but not as much as the critics did. It tied for third place at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival while “No Country for Old Men” and “The Edge of Heaven” (which I care a lot less about) went home empty handed. The graphic novel medium is an excellent way to blend humor as well as display emotions in images rather than words. This has got to be the best graphic novel I’ve read, although I’ve only read a couple of other ones (“Maus,” “Watchmen”).

    I’m also reading and have read some other books on Iran and Islam for summer reading, like Firoozeh Dumas’ “Funny in Farsi,” which I found tried to create humor that was only at times amusing with simile after simile, definitely not the same as Satrapi and nowhere near as humorous.

    • July 19, 2010 12:15 pm

      Nick, I’m glad you loved this book, too. πŸ™‚ I’ve been wondering whether Funny in Farsi is good — it sounds like the humor was rather strained.

  3. July 18, 2010 3:46 am

    I loved this one, but didn’t like Part 2 as much, which is what I hear from most others as well. On the other, I loved some of Satrapi’s other books – Embroideries and Chicken With Plums – even more than Persepolis. I’m glad you liked this one so much! I haven’t seen the movie, but my brother says it’s his favorite.

    • July 19, 2010 12:16 pm

      Thanks, Amanda — I have Chicken With Plums on my coffee table. I’m glad to hear you liked it even better than Persepolis.

  4. July 18, 2010 6:37 am

    What a wonderful review of Persepolis.

    Probably especially this bit:

    Ten-year-old Marjane’s parents are intellectual Marxists β€” Marxists who drive a Cadillac and have a maid who takes her meals alone in the kitchen. Marjane is beginning to question these inconsistencies, but this is overshadowed by the turmoil all around her.

    and this:

    I am salivating over the potential for discussion β€” about contemporary history, our country’s role in Mideast history, and life in a theocracy. Religious freedom is something we blessedly take for granted, though there are ripples in the U.S. urging us to replace secular law with β€œGod’s law.” This book also offers potential for discussion about how childhood can be shaped by fear and violence and also by courage and love.

  5. July 18, 2010 4:17 pm

    This looks so cute! And slightly scary. But mostly cute.

    • July 19, 2010 12:17 pm

      Hi Robby πŸ™‚ — it is cute, in a way. Though overall, more heart-wrenching and scary than cute.

  6. July 18, 2010 5:25 pm

    I LOVED Persepolis. Satrapi’s observations and honesty, along with the fantastic graphics, just blew me away. Still haven’t seen the movie though.

    • July 19, 2010 12:18 pm

      Stephanie — I’m so glad you loved this book too. And I LOVE what you said about her observations and honesty.

  7. July 18, 2010 7:41 pm

    I’m so happy you are getting in to graphic novels. They really are wonderful. I still haven’t read Persepolis II, and the film version is still waiting on my DVR; but I hope to get to both soon.

  8. July 20, 2010 8:29 am

    I actually didn’t love this one as much as you, but I did adore her other book, Embroideries! So now you can check out more of her stuff. πŸ˜‰

  9. August 2, 2010 12:25 am

    Now you make me want to read this one again. After reading your reviews, I feel compelled to pick it up. I think I will do just that tonight! πŸ™‚

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