Persepolis

I picked this up yesterday with the desire to read something quick, easy and light. I got the first two with these graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi, but light… well, let’s just say I was in a dark mood, and this didn’t do much to lighten it up. It’s a starkly drawn graphic novel, different from anything I’ve read before, literally in black and white without much variation. And it’s not like the subject matter — Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, exile (of sorts) in Europe, and return to Iran — was exactly a cheerful one.

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, during the revolution. I’ve heard her story before — not as told by her, but as told by others; it seems that this story (of an upper-middle-class, fairly liberal woman) is one that gets told a lot. Probably because these are the sorts of people that got out of Iran, and are able to tell the stories. Not that it wasn’t interesting; it was. I thought Satrapi portrayed her childhood as, while not idyllic, charmed. At the very least, she was charming. (I loved that she wanted to be a prophet when she grew up. Very cute.) When Hubby was talking to me about the book, and asked why she left, for me it boiled down to personality: it’s not that she couldn’t have made a go — her parents did, after all — but her personality was too forceful for the regime and she was unwilling (and her parents were unwilling to make her) change. So, she went to Vienna for school.

Which brings us to Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Of the two, I was more affected by this one, because this is a story that I haven’t read before. I was moved by her esperiences in Vienna — as a teenager alone in an unknown city, as an immigrant in a European town, as a person who’s trying to not only find her identity but come to terms with her nationality. In a lot of ways, she was at a disadvantage: her parents weren’t there to guide her, she had problems making friends, her aforementioned personality was a hindrance as much as it was an asset. I thought Satrapi portrayed isolation and loneliness and need incredibly well. After four years in Vienna, Satrapi decides to return back to Iran, and we have another set of adjustments. After four years of living in Europe, to come home to the Islamic regime of Iran was not only a shock and adjustment, it did nothing to alleviate her loneliness and identity crisis. Again, we have another period of adjustment, where mistakes are made — including a doomed marriage — and it’s not until the very end where Satrapi leaves again, that she finds her sense of balance between who she is and what everyone — parents, friends, the state, the world — expects of her.

My favorite little bit — it’s just two frames — was the same one that Sarah quoted:

“The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my make-up be seen? Are they going to whip me?’ no longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought? Were is my freedom of speech? My life, is it livable? What’s going on in the political prisons?’

It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression.”

Satrapi hit the nail on the head there. And I think that’s what I liked most about it. At one point, Satrapi is praised by a member of the committee for her honesty (which is how she got into art school), and I think fundamentally that’s what is most appealing about these books: Satrapi holds nothing back. She’s honest about everything — good and bad, ups and downs — which makes these, while difficult to read at times, very intense and intriguing.

5 thoughts on “Persepolis

  1. I read this earlier this year and really enjoyed it. The film just came out in the UK dubbed from the French which I also went to see and enjoyed. I had read about it in Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree and my best friend recommended it to me so I had a little bit of an idea what I was letting myself in for. I’s not the happiest story, but I think it is an important one and I hope people who usually shun raphic novels give it a go.

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  2. Like you, I think I enjoyed the second one more than the first. Not many people agree with me on that (from what I’ve seen). I really need to get my grubby paws on her others: Embroideries and Chicken with Plums.

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  3. I want to eventually read her other two books as well. I really liked these – surprisingly so given that they were my first exposure to graphic novels.

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