Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis by Marjane SatrapiPersepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis #1) by Marjane Satrapi
Published: Pantheon (2000), Hardcover, 153pg
Source: Library
Genres: Graphic Novel, History, Memoir, Non-Fiction

Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane’s child's-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a stunning reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, through laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love. (From Amazon)

I put off reading Persepolis for the longest time because I thought it’d be depressing and I’m a big emotional scaredy-cat. While Persepolis DOES have its darker moments, what I ended up reading wasn’t a story of unrelenting sadness. Instead, there’s humor, lots of love, and a big fat epiphany that I’m a dunderhead.

I’m stupid for being scared off a book, but I’m ALSO stupid because of this: intellectually, I know that not everyone in Iran is a religious fanatic out to destroy everything I love. Emotionally, as I said before, I’m a big scaredy-cat. Reading Persepolis helped me shift my emotional whatsits more towards my intellectual things. Yay for growing more empathetic and less stupid overall!

Persepolis has lots of good modern history about Iran as well as the personal history of Marjane Satrapi’s family. It SO. INTERESTING. All I really know about Iran is a) the scary modern stuff (and not much then, even) and b) some ancient stuff when it was Persia. Persepolis covers the years from just before the 1979 revolution ’til the late 1980s, when Marjane leave Iran to go live in Austria (what happens after is covered in the sequel). I learned a lot about the revolution, as well as a little immediately before and after it, and since all that info is given through personal anecdotes– MS’s family was RIGHT THERE, in the thick of things, for LOTS of important events– I didn’t even really notice I was learning until after it already happened. (If only school were as good at teaching as some authors are, eh?)

The art is very simple and almost childish, and it took me a while to get used to it. Once I did, though, I found it very powerful. The story is powerful, too, because it’s a personal one coming from real experiences, starring real people in a real place. It’s a wonderful book, and if you’re in any way interested in the history of Iran and/or the people who live there, you should definitely read Persepolis.

Read: May 1, 2013

This past March, a school in Chicago banned Persepolis from both the school library and from being taught in class. Here’s an article about it, and an interview with the author.

Persepolis was also made into a movie a while back! I’ve watched it, and I liked it a lot. Here’s the trailer for those of you not familiar with it:

7 thoughts on “Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi”

  1. Great post! I just recently happened to check out The Complete Persepolis collection but I haven’t started reading it yet. Like you, I’ve been meaning to read it for awhile but was slightly intimidated, mostly because my own knowledge of Iran’s history and particularly the Islamic Revolution is so limited, but from your post, it sounds like this is a great way to learn while engaging with a great story.

    The other thing is, I live in the Chicago area, and remember when CPS officials banned the book earlier this year. Such a shame that it won’t be taught in schools, but I do hope those seventh graders will seek out the book at their public libraries. I think they’re smart enough to handle it (as Satrapi pointed out, they are exposed to a lot worse than her book every day through other forms of media such as TV and movies).

    1. I think it’s a shame, too, because really the only thing “shocking” about it is the violence. And kids see a lot more violent stuff than what’s in Persepolis just watching cable television, soooo. 🙁

  2. I have an enormous crush on Iran. I am angry that they have such a rotten bunch of theocratic goons ruling them right now when all along they have been this amazing bastion of culture and learning. I want them to have the shiniest and nicest government in the world. They are PERSIA.

    Also, you should read Reading Lolita in Tehran! There are criticisms of it around the way it portrays Iran’s relationship with America, but generally, it’s a wonderful book about books and what they mean in people’s lives.

  3. I also put off reading it for a long time because I was scared of it for similar reasons! Then, a few weeks ago I borrowed it from the library. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t finish it and bought my own copy instead.
    I’ll admit I knew very little about Iran before reading it. I think I will have to read even more about it once I finish Persepolis!

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