Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi, Marjane - Persepolis 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.

I'd seen a lot of mentions of this book (and its follow-up) on blogs. While I never went out to look for it, it did remain in the back of my mind.

While in the library today I saw it on a display stand and immediately picked it up. My mother is visiting and I thought it was something that would appeal to her, so I figured that even if I didn't read it, she might.

In fact, I picked it up not long after we got home and sat there until I finished it. I have already put a library hold on the second book.
This is a fascinating read about Satrapi's childhood in Iran at the time of the revolution. We follow the author from childhood (I'm not sure how old she is at the start) through the revolution and the Iran/Iraq war until she is fourteen and her parents send her to Austria to get her out of Iran.

It was fascinating to see the lives of Iranians who seemed to have very similar notions to my own, adjusting to the strict post-Shah atmosphere of Iran. Satrapi grows into a typical teenager interested in pop music and clothes, in a society where such things are forbidden. For some reason the scene that most showed it for me was the one where her mother warned her about painting her nails and she insisted she would keep her hands in her pockets.

As someone who knows nothing beyond popular knowledge of the Iranian revolution, I found it ironic that the same people who knew enough to support the revolution against the Shah, were the same ones to recognise the oppression of the new regime and to be opposed to that as well. Satrapi's parents and relatives were some of these.

I know I haven't given this a hugely high score, and I'm not even quite sure why as I tend to rate by gut feeling. I think it was mostly because it didn't feel finished, stopping abruptly as Satrapi left Iran (although I realise that this is non-fiction rather than fiction, meaning things don't always wrap up neatly) and because the graphic novel is a medium I struggle with.

All the same, I agree with others who have described this as an important work and I highly recommend reading it.

Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood
Marjane Satrapi 
Persopolis, Book 1
Read: 15-7-10 to 15-7-10


  1. Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood
  2. Persopolis 2: The Story of a Return (Goodreads link)

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