Persepolis: The Story Of A Childhood – Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s 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 and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. 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.
Review: This review is for the English translation of a French book.
I know nothing about Iran. I don’t even remember learning much about it in school. But, in the past few months, I’ve gotten curious about literature written by people from the Middle East, and that’s what brought me to this book.
“Once again, I arrived at my usual conclusion: one must educate oneself.” – Persepolis
In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her childhood and her family. She came from a family of Marxists who were very critical of the Iranian government. As a result, several of her family members and friends were imprisoned or executed. The book shows Marjane growing from a confused child into a passionate and outspoken teenager. Her parents don’t want to leave Iran, but they worry that Marjane’s opinionated nature could get her killed.
The art style in this graphic memoir is simple and black-and-white. The story follows Marjane from childhood to her teenage years as the Shah is overthrown and Islamic fundamentalism rises. Since Marjane is a child for most of the book, we get to see her confusion about the mixed messages she gets from school, her parents, and the news. Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It’s stressful for people—especially children—to be constantly inundated with conflicting information about their world. Persepolis shows that confusion brilliantly.
“I realized then that I didn't understand anything. I read all the books I could.” – Persepolis
The best part of this memoir is the contrast between Marjane’s home life and the politics of Iran. In most ways, Marjane is a typical kid. She’s interested in clothes, music, movies, parties, and being “cool.” While she’s sneaking off to party with the older girls, her city is being bombed by the Iraqis, and innocent people are being murdered by the government. The constant violence is normal for Marjane, but it’s shocking for the reader. It shows that humans can adapt to almost any environment, even ones that shouldn’t be normal.
“In life you'll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it's because they're stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance . . . Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.” – Persepolis
I wish the book had given more background information about the political situation in Iran during the time that Marjane was growing up. There’s a very short introduction that explains a few things, but I was still slightly confused at the beginning of the story. People who know more than I do about Iranian politics will probably have no problem understanding it, though.