I tell you all this because it’s important that you know. Our family memory must not be lost. Even if it’s not easy for you, even if you don’t understand it all.
By Marjane Satrapi
2007 (in compilation, originally released 2000-2003)
Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
This is an astounding book about life, history, culture, and context. It is the story of a young girl who grows up during a revolution that changes everything about her public life. It is about a teenager who is able to flee that life for something wholly different, something alienating and lonely. And it is about a young woman who returns home again to her family comforts, facing repression and tragedy with honesty and humor.
I can not recommend this graphic novel enough.
For this review I read the complete compilation, which consists of all four volumes of Marjane Satrapi’s work. Each volume is broken down into smaller, 7-12 page chapters that focus on a certain theme, running from the completely mundane to the philosophical and profound. The first two volumes deal with the years between 1979 and 1984, when Iran underwent an Islamic revolution, followed soon after with a war between Iraq. Satrapi uses chapters to explain the differences in life before and after these events- the forced gender segregation of schools, the imposition of veils, the suppression of western culture and vanity. It was both thought-provoking and haunting, as your literary journey is narrated by an eleven year old who is surrounded by propaganda and executions.
The second half deals with the Satrapi’s education in Austria, where she is treated as a low outsider, and where she struggles to emotionally connect with anyone due to lack of such scaring shared experiences. At the end of the work, she returns to Iran again and faces the some of the same challenges of her childhood, albeit with her incredibly supportive family by her side.
This graphic novel is beautifully written and drawn, with panels done exclusively in an effective black and white style that never once made me wish for color. It is a work that is educational, funny, heartfelt, and ultimately profound, as the writer uses her own story to describe a way of life that I had had little knowledge or perspective of before. I highly recommend taking a look at Persepolis, as you’ll come away with so much more than what you started with.