Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood(Persepolis #1) by Marjane Satrapi

04 Jan
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood(Persepolis #1)
by Marjane Satrapi
Rating: 5/5
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, 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. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with 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.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
Here is the continuation of Marjane Satrapi’s 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
Cultural relativists as far back as Sextus Empiricus or Michel Montaigne, or as recent as William Graham Sumner or Gilbert Harman, often make compelling arguments that there are no objective standards for judging other societies/beliefs. Yet Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis achieves in 153 pages what cultural relativists deny as possible and what most political pundits can never fully articulate: an informed and justifiable criticism of an existing cultural paradigm. Satrapi’s method is deceptively simple: by using her own life stories as the premise, Satrapi builds an argument for criticizing culture. 
Satrapi’s autobiographicalized[1] self and society act both with wisdom and foolishness both before and after the revolution. The Iranian revolution meant to replace an unpopular government with one more responsive to the people’s will. Until reading this book, I was unaware of any particular details of Iran during their revolution – mostly because I am a Westerner and generally not privy to accounts of day-to-day life in the Mid-East. On that basis, the cultural relativists may be right that I have no foundation on which to critically analyze the current state of Iran. Thankfully, however, Satrapi can criticize – using both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective. Satrapi undermines the denial of standards posited by cultural relativists by showing the reader that standards of comparison do indeed exist: standards related to varying degrees of freedom of expression, of decision, and from coercion. Satrapi’s criticism is much more subtle than “old way good, new way bad.” Instead, she draws for the reader situation after situation where real people are swept along with the flash flood of a revolution. Satrapi, having come of age in the midst of such a flood, is able to compare her pre- and post-revolution home and draw for the reader how the people she knew dealt with that change and what they thought of it. 
Satrapi’s art maintains a consistent, iconic style throughout the book. This allows the reader to identify more fully with the story’s characters and makes for a gripping narrative flow. This iconic style is also important in reaching an audience unaccustomed to graphic novels and the myriad ways in which their authors approach narrative (Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a prime example of an iconic style’s appeal). What really makes Persepolis an artistic tour-de-force, however, are the more experimental panels that Satrapi intersperses into the basic narrative frame she establishes. These larger, and more visually stunning, panels interrupt the narrative, slowing (in some instances stopping) the reader in his or her tracks, drawing him or her into the intricacies of the panel. This interspersion is a type of reader manipulation especially featured in comix. There are an abundance of examples of this technique in Persepolis – panels 15.2, 29.4 are but a few. Panels 10.5, 11.1, and 11.2, in particular, defy, yet wholly contain, prosaic description, poetic symbolism, dramatic interaction, and cinematic imagery. 
Satrapi seems to suggest in this work that the way to bring peoples together is to allow an exchange of their cultural ideas. At times, it may appear that the unrestrained steamroller of Western culture threatens anything in its path. But is that really the case? Satrapi seems to hint that a people left free to first experience, then to choose, whether to accept or reject another culture’s offerings are always better off than a people punished for experiencing other cultures. She presents with compassion her life in that earlier Iran and draws it for the reader through the filter of her current life in Western culture. She doesn’t champion one culture while condemning another. She shows, through autobiography, what works and doesn’t work when it comes to governing groups of human beings. 
[1] – This phrase refers to the separation of the author as an entity from the literary self they create for a reader through autobiography

Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Friend Reviews


2 responses to “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood(Persepolis #1) by Marjane Satrapi

  1. cassiel12

    September 1, 2014 at 2:27 am

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  2. Alexis Caughell

    January 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I have been reading out some of your posts and i can state pretty good stuff. I will surely bookmark your website.


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