by Marjane Satrapi
In Persepolis, heralded by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day,” Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Here is the continuation of her fascinating story. In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna. Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging.Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation. Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria. Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she finds some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university. However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran.As funny and poignant as its predecessor, Persepolis 2 is another clear-eyed and searing condemnation of the human cost of fundamentalism. In its depiction of the struggles of growing up—here compounded by Marjane’s status as an outsider both abroad and at home—it is raw, honest, and incredibly illuminating.Review: The farther we progress into the early 2000s, the more convinced I am of how in the future, this period of history will be seen as one where Americans finally started more and more understanding the Middle East in the same semi-complex way they currently understand, say, Europe; because make no mistake, international readers, even though the last ten years have mostly been marked by our glee in blowing sh-t up over there, in private there are more and more Americans each day right now eagerly learning just a little more and a little more about what makes up daily life in the areas once defined by the Arabic, Persian, Ottoman and Moghul empires, with the generalities of such terms as “Farsi” and “Shia” (to cite two random examples) becoming more and more known among the general populace for the first time in US history. (And in fact this is ironically a regular occurrence in American history, for wars to be the catalyst behind our population starting to understand a certain region in a more sophisticated way; look for example at how little most Americans knew about far-east Asia until our involvement in such places as Japan, Korea and Vietnam in the second half of the 20th century, how such basics as Chinese food and karaoke are now sincere staples of American life, when just 50 years ago they seemed impossibly exotic to most.) And thus do we arrive at Marjane Satrapi’s thought-provoking and highly entertaining graphic novel Persepolis, which has an interesting history: essentially a memoir of her youth as a loudmouthed, chain-smoking punk-rocker in the midst of Iran’s oppressive Islamic Republic years, the story was originally published in the early 2000s as four underground comics in France (where Satrapi now lives); which then became a cult hit in the UK when first translated into English and gathered into two bound books; which then brought about the opportunity to make a popular experimental animated film out of it; which then became a surprise hit in the US and garnered an Oscar nomination; which has just recently finally prompted a one-volume English trade paperback version here, which has quickly in the last year become the book to mention here in America at hipster intellectual cocktail parties, half a decade since the same was true in the EU.And there’s a reason this has become such a huge cult hit in the US, because Satrapi here in Petropolis breaks the entire complicated sequence of events that have happened in Iran in the last thirty years down into a whole series of easily relatable Western-style stories, allowing us to understand the complex, surprisingly diverse population of that country in a way many of us never have before: from the ongoing controversy there among women themselves over “taking the veil” (think of American women debating the relative merits versus embarrassments of chick-lit), to how their decade-long war with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein allowed religious conservatives to slowly take over all aspects of the government in the first place (think Bush and the Patriot Act), to the ingeniously subtle ways that rebellious youth display their independence in such an environment anyway (by letting a bit of hair slip out from underneath their veil, by wearing brightly colored socks, by participating in highly codified Austenesque nonverbal flirting sessions in public squares and school stairways). And by Satrapi having the courage to add the details of her own unique, sometimes trainwreck of a life — her habit of falling in love with gay men, her stint as a homeless gutter-punk in Vienna in the late ’80s — the book never even threatens to devolve into afterschool-special liberal homilies, but instead stands strongly as a solid piece of personal yet political literature, a great example of how powerful graphic novels can be when they’re at their best, and why your snotty little slacker friends are always encouraging you to read more of them. Given the events that are going on right this moment in Iran (summer 2009, for those reading this in the future), and how similar they now seem to be in so many Americans’ eyes to our own peaceful overthrow of George Bush and his “Christian Taliban” ilk just a year before, now is a better time than ever to tacklePersepolis yourself if you never have; and needless to say, the movie as well is now in my queue over at Netflix, and I will be getting a review of it up here too after I’ve finally gotten a chance to watch it.