Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.
The genius in Persepolis is the simplicity. Marjane Satrapi’s autobiography is a timely and timeless tale of a young woman coming of age against the backdrop of the Islamic Revolution. The artwork consists of a series of monochromatic drawings; bold black lines washed with nuances of gray and stark contrasts between light and dark. Simple as this may sound, Persepolis is full of heart and soul; it is alive with humor and a fierce independence of spirit. If Persepolis had been a conventional memoir rather than a graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi’s account of her childhood and youth in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran would not have been quite as moving or as marvelous, particularly for western audiences who may find themselves completely unfamiliar with the history of Iran or the Islamic Revolution.
Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. Marjane grows up in a family of left-wing intellectuals who suffer first under the Shah’s dictatorship and then, as the triumphant Islamic revolutionaries turn on their secular allies, under the rule of the mullahs. This political history, which includes war, torture, and execution, is conveyed with impressive restraint and visual wit.
Satrapi wrote Persepolis in an almost childish manner, to reflect Marjane’s innocence in this horrifying world. Young Marjane (or Marji) does not understand what is going on around her. Her parents talk about materialism and martyrs. Her teacher says that the Shah is divine. Her maid does not eat with the family. Marjane wants to become a prophet so she takes refuge in God and reading all the books she can. Then the Shah is overthrown and a new Islamic regime takes control. All the schools are single-gender, she is forced to wear a veil, and the picture of the Shah is torn out of her textbook. Her parents’ friends, Siamak and Mohsen, are released from prison. She meets Anoush, her uncle whom she immediately loves. He tells her stories about being in prison and Russia, and gifts her with a bread swan. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors’ homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi’s parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. “I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?” he asks his wife. Powerfully understated, this work moves at a fast pace, which almost gives the reader vertigo; the effect is absolutely exhilarating.
My favorite aspect of Persepolis is the strength and quality of feminism that runs throughout it. Persepolis is full of no-nonsense feminism, and it is anchored in the matriarchs of Satrapi’s family – her mother and her grandmother. Like her grandmother and her mother, Marjane is a natural rebel, someone who takes freedom and equality as her birthright and dares the world to challenge her. Though she is self-confident and sometimes a little self-righteous, Marjane Satrapi does not wrap herself in heroism. Iron Maiden, Nikes, and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi’s rebellious streak puts her in danger, forcing her to flee Iran on more than one occasion. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality.
Skillfully presenting a child’s view of war and her own shifting ideals, Satrapi presents us with a powerfully understated masterpiece that everyone should read. Persepolis will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and you will want to blast punk rock music.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Title: The Complete Persepolis (Persepolis #1-4)
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Genre: Graphic Novel, Autobiography, Comic, Religion & Spirituality, Islam, Women in Islam, Feminism, Biography, History
Read… over the course of a lazy weekend while… listening to the Beatles.
Purchase your copy here.
Author: Marjane Satrapi