May 10, 2008

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

"I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don't want those Iranians who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.
One can forgive but one should never forget."
From the Introduction

This edition of Persepolis contains both volume 1, The Story of a Childhood, and volume 2, The Story of a Return. The first part tells the story of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran. Born in 1969 to Marxist parents, she was 10 years old when the Shah was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. What looked like a new beginning quickly turned out to be the replacement of one kind of repression by another. The political prisoners who had been released, including Marjane’s uncle, were quickly arrested again, as well as anyone who opposed the new regime. Part one ends with Marjane’s departure to Austria to study, at the age of fourteen. The fact that she was so outspoken got her intro trouble much too often, and her parents feared for her safety if she remained in Iran.

The Story of a Return follows her lonely and difficult high school years in Europe, and her return to Iran at eighteen, where she realizes that while she didn’t fit in in the Western world because she was Iranian, now she no longer fits in in Iran because she’s too much of a Westerner. While part one is mostly about young Marjane trying to make sense of the world around her, part two is more of an inner journey in search of her identity.

I think that what I liked the most about Persepolis was how well it depicted the huge difference between the official way of life imposed by a country’s repressive government and the actual way people live their lives. What goes on behind closed doors in Iran is not very different from what goes on in our lives. But the people are forced to keep their private lives secret, and to behave differently when in public. Reading this book reminded me a little of Donna Jo Napoli’s report of her visit to Iran – she observed many of the same things Marjane Stapari describes.

Despite having been raised in a repressive society, Marjane Stapari is a freethinking, frank and courageous woman. And so are many other Iranian women, even those who, like her grandmother, never had access to a liberal education, or to any kind of education at all. Marjane’s grandmother is an inspiring woman with a great sense of justice. It is she who makes the young Marjane realize the gravity of what she has done when she told the Guardians of the Revolution that a man had said indecent things to her to draw their attention away from the fact that she was wearing makeup (something for which she could be imprisoned and whipped).

I want to share the following panel with you because I think it goes a long way to explain not only what we see in Persepolis, but what happens in other parts of the world under different and yet similar circumstances:

(click to enlarge)

I kind of wanted to post others, too, because this one does not quite give you an idea of how rich and expressive Stapari’s black and white drawings are. But hopefully you will believe me.

Persepolis is a touching, funny, warm, tragic and thought-provoking account of a remarkable woman’s coming of age. It is also a chilling account of the consequences of fear and war in people’s lives. Convinced yet? Perhaps you will be if I tell you that Marjane Stapari is not only a very talented storyteller, but an amazing woman. When I finished the book I read several interviews with her, and I just have share a few passages from my favourite:
I believe that we say too much “We the women” and “We the men,” but should say “We the human beings.” There are really two types of human being -- the ones who care about environment, who want a more just society; and the other ones who care about greed and war. So it’s not a question of East and West, and American and Iranian, and women and men.

The world is complex. Even in my book I show a mullah who is good, the one who accepted me at the ideological test. He accepted me. So I can never say “All the mullahs are bad.” There was a man who believed in honesty. It would be so much easier to say they are all shit. My life would be easier. But everything is so much more complex. There is so much good in bad, and so much bad in good.
I love her. I really want to read more of her work – I was excited to find out that her grandmother is a central character in Embroideries. Has anyone read that one yet? Also, I really want to see the Persepolis movie. I had seen the trailer before, but I went back and watched it again now that I’ve read the book, and wow, it’s perfect. It looks exactly right. Plus, the fact that Marjane Stapari wrote the script and directed it herself makes me confident that the adaptation is an excellent one.

Other Blog Reviews:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
The Hidden Side of a Leaf (part 1)
The Hidden Side of a Leaf (part 2)
Reading Adventures (part 1)
Reading Adventures (part 2)
An Adventure in Reading
Valentina's Room
Trish's Reading Nook
Care's Online Bookclub
Out of the Blue
Library Queue
The Bluestocking Society (part 1)
The Bluestocking Society (part 2)
Reading Room
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Book Addiction
Libri Touches


  1. Well, I think I'll be making a substitution on my Graphic Novels Challenge list. This really does sound incredible! Thanks, Nymeth!

  2. I hadn't even heard about this one until a few weeks ago. A friend of mine's sister is going into college this year and this is on her summer reading list and she picked it up and said "what the hell is this?" She had never heard of a graphic novel and isn't the most open minded person in the world....I flipped through it and put it on the wishlist right away after a few pages and talked to her about graphic novels a little bit and I'm hoping that this will be a good experience for her both in a literary sense and definitely in a cultural/humanitarian sense. I'm thrilled that there's a movie coming out based on this! Now I have to go out and read it!

  3. Oh, I was so looking forward to your review! And of course you didn't disappoint.

    I also paused and mulled over the frame you pictured, because it reminds me in a way of what's going on in my own country (the U.S.) right now, and for the past eight years. It's surprisingly easy to get a large percentage of people thinking the way you want them to, leaving others who think for themselves perplexed. I honestly think, for example, that the gay marriage "controversy" in my country was an intentional distraction from the war. Just one example.

  4. I've read one other review (don't remember where, it was some time ago), but it, too, was very positive. Sounds like an eye-opening look at someone caught between two diametrically opposite cultures -- at least where women are concerned.

  5. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. It's one I will definitely re-read, and it's one I would LOVE to teach. It was the One Book, One Community, city-wide book for Wilmington, North Carolina a year or two ago. I thought it was great that a graphic novel was used for a city-wide reading challenge.

  6. I have never been into Graphic Novels, their just not my thing. However, I LOVED the movie and your review! I think I'm going to have to give this one a try.

  7. I really enjoyed this when I read it too (BB - Before Blogging). Thanks for the link to the movie trailer. I hadn't seen it but you're right, it's perfect.

  8. I read this about a year ago after reading about it in Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree, and absolutely loved it! I thought the graphic novel format would put me off, but it was the perfect medium for tackling such a difficult political and moral subject. Not only did I learn so much about the average Iranian's oppression and rebellion, but had more insight in how Europe is seen by other countries, such as Iran. This book has definitely given me pause for thought and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  9. This was the first graphic novel I ever read, and I was so moved by it. Really great book, especially for an introduction to the genre.

  10. I will read this soon, I know. I can't resist any further.
    The video looks really cool, but unfortunatelyI don't speak french and I couldn't read the subtitles very well. I hope it won't be the same in the cinema!

  11. Wow, this sounds like a must-read! I don't read graphic novels much but after reading your review really makes me want to pick up this book. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth!

  12. I have this one on my list already, but your review just makes me want to read it now! That panel was very thought-provoking. I had never thought of it that way, but so true. I read a book not too long ago written by a woman who had married into the bin Ladin family and lived a number of years in Saudi Arabia. The way women are treated there was incredible! (Carmen bin Ladin was the author's name).

    ps I tagged you for my meme

  13. I just added this to my reading list! It will be my first ever graphic novel. Thanks for recommending it.

  14. Debi: You'll enjoy this for sure!

    Chris: I think this is a perfect book to change the minds of those who dismiss graphic's a striking example of how powerful they can be. You do have to read it!

    Dewey: It's the same over here... whenever something that is uncomfortable for some is being given too much attention, lo and behold! a hot new scandal pops up to distract everyone.

    Jenclair: Yes, it was certainly eye-opening. I learned a lot about what life in Iran is like.

    Andi: Teaching this book must certainly be rewarding. And that is indeed great!

    Teddy Rose: Do give it a try! It just might make you change your mind about graphic novels :P

    Tanabata: It really is. I can't wait to see the movie.

    Mariel: Yes, I agree that it was the perfect medium for telling this story. Another such case is Maus by Art Spiegelman. Have you read that one? I couldn't recommend it more highly.

    Marg: I found it very moving too. Such a great book.

    Valentina: I don't speak French either (despite 3 years of French in school :P), and you're right, the subtitles are much too small. But in the cinema they should be visible. In the US a dubbed version was released and Iggy Pop did one of the voices!

    Melody, you're welcome! Do pick this one up...I can't imagine you not enjoying it.

    Kim: Thanks for the tag :) It is very true, isn't it? And yes, Iranian society is extremely patriarchal. There was a scene in which Marjane was stopped by the police when she was running to catch the bus because "running was causing her behind to make obscene movements." Can you believe that?

    Becca: I can't think of a better introduction to graphic novels. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

  15. Great review. It was such an eye opener of a book, and yet it was every woman's story as well. It was my first graphic novel, and I'm glad to see how many readers are interested in getting it after your review.

    I reivewed it here

  16. I've started reading in work during my breaks and it's so funny! also I'm learning a lot about Iran's history. It's really promising, I'm happy you made me pick it up so soon, even though I heard about it so many times before:)

  17. raidergirl3: Thanks for the link, I added it to the post. That's a good point - these things happen to many women even in supposedly progressive countries.

    Valentina: I'm very glad to hear you're enjoying it so much!

  18. "Convinced yet?"
    I'd seen the trailer and was already intrigued about the story as a result of that, but I didn't know that it was based on a graphic novel...thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  19. ahh i have maus at home just waiting to be read! i really should hurry up as it belongs to my aunt, the only other member of my family who loves reading as much as i do!

  20. Oh, I just read and reviewed these too!!! Great review, I LOVED reading both of them. I waited until I read the books to want to watch the movie, but I will rent it soon (can't wait!!)

    Glad to see you are enjoying your OT travels!!! Great job!

  21. Okay now I've gone back and read your review, and it's interesting because we seemed to have picked out the same things, even down to several of the same quotes! Interesting. :)


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