Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (Volumes I and II) is an illuminating and nuanced graphic memoir about her coming of age during the Islamic Revolution. Set in Tehran as well as Vienna, the memoir beautifully portrays Marjane's girlhood, adolescence, and search for an identity in an unpredictable world. There are three main reasons that I loved this graphic memoir:
- It provides an entertaining and much-needed look Iranian history, from a unique perspective.
- It explores family, growing up, and the idea of "home" in a way that is universally relatable.
- Its graphic memoir format allows her to couple a child's look at the world (through the images) with self-aware and often profound reflections on life (through the narration).
Through child's eyes and simple narration, she sorts out the often complicated political and social relationships in which she is entrenched. In this way, the reader understands her world the way that she understood it as a girl. Her confusion and her outrage at the injustices around her are palpable. The author's character development is highly polished, and the reader immediately feels invested in little Marjane's relationships with her father, mother and grandmother.
The second volume explores Marjane's adolescence in Vienna, as well as her return back to a homeland that she can no longer recognize. At the beginning of the volume, Marjane's parents send her to boarding school in Austria, to keep her away from the ever-heightening danger in Tehran. She goes through a self-destructive identity crisis that elicits both pain and understanding in the reader.
What is particularly interesting about this volume is the way that Marjane is physically immersed in the clash between stereotypical "Western" and "Middle Eastern" values. In Marjane's character, the reader sees a much more complicated exploration and understanding of socially conservative and socially liberal values than what readers in the West are typically accustomed to in portrayals of Iran.
One question that came up for me was whether the author had chosen to portray her childhood and adolescence in a certain light in order to pander to Western audiences. Did she decide to relay anecdotes that showed her as fitting into a Western feminist's idea of a liberal, empowered woman, just so that she could overturn the West's stereotypes of Iranian women?
While I completely understand the need to represent Iranian women as powerful capable individuals, I also am not sure that the only way to do that is to show that they become "Westernized." However, this is a minor criticism, because Satrapi's graphic memoir is not meant to represent the experiences of all Iranian women; a sophisticated reader should be able to understand that.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in reading something that is thought provoking, aesthetically interesting, and deeply moving. It is a stunning work of art that is both an educational and enjoyable read. Since it was published (Volume I in 2003, and Volume II in 2004), Persepolis has also been turned into an award-winning animated film. The two-volume work is appropriate for teenagers and adults.
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Review by Anjali Dixit, College Writer