By Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon June 2004
Borrowed from my sister
Persepolis is a graphic novel that details one girl's experiences during the Islamic revolution in Iran during the 1970s and 1980s. Marjane recounts the juxtaposition of growing up in the home of Marxist protesters in a nation where having a divergent opinion was enough to get you killed. She lives with the threat of prison or death for her parents and for their friends. This book shows the reader both the terrible costs of repression and war and the way that life continues even under the most unimaginable of circumstances.
The author made a great choice to first show the reader Marjane as a child and then as a young woman, which allows us to learn right along with her. Her first notion that something has changed in her country is the day that she must wear the veil to school. Her parents educate her about what is happening and we get a mini history lesson too. As she gets older and forms her own opinions, her parents become fearful. Marjane is outspoken and passionate and her parents grapple with the difficult decision to allow her to stay in her home and face the danger there or leave the country and find safety.
Reading Persepolis opened my eyes to two things. First, I realized just how little I know about modern history in nations other than my own. It's easy to stop with your school-mandated history and your knowledge of the Renaissance in Europe or the terrible toll of the world wars. But it takes effort to remain informed about the things happening around the world in your lifetime and what happened during the decades before you were born. I also found out that I had a sort of skewed understanding of the kind of stories you can find in a graphic novel. I expected that most comics involved superheroes or retellings of popular science fiction stories. But many writers, including Marjane Satrapi, use comics to bring their own personal histories to life. Graphic novels are a unique way to convey a story and it gives the storyteller a different set of tools. In Persepolis, Satrapi showed the bleakness of living in Iran by creating images in solely black and white.
Persepolis is both universal and specific. Those of us living in the US have no idea what it is like to live under a repressive regime. But we do know about growing up and deciding which things we want to keep from our parent's teaching and which things we forge our own opinions about. Marjane Satrapi picked a powerful medium to convey her memories of becoming her own person in a dangerous time and place.
What is your favorite graphic novel?