Mini Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Mini Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.” (Satrapi, introduction)

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Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Cover blurb (from Amazon): “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.”

***

I think I’m in the minority when I say that this book didn’t do much for me. It was fine. I’m not sorry I read it but I don’t quite understand the hype.

On the positive side, it does an excellent job of showing everyday life in the midst of cultural change. Too often we see revolutions reported by statistics and political analysis but what about the human experience? What is it like to be an average person, when your country is in turmoil? Persepolis dives directly into that issue. Satrapi brings you into her home, and into her family. From this perspective, it is much easier to understand individual choices.

The narration through the eyes of a child is really interesting. Kids see things in black and white. It’s easy to see, then, how you can twist the flow of information. Satrapi’s parents are liberal, but she is not immune to the influences of her teachers and friends. It’s also easy to see how you can convince young people to take action. When you create an extreme split between good and evil, it becomes easy to target the “bad guys.” In Persepolis, we see this from the military recruiters and the “Guardians of the Revolution.”

This desire to create an obvious enemy is universal. No matter where you live, I think it’s important to understand how easy it is to turn people against one another. Arbitrary differences can get blown out of proportion, and become an issue of life or death. For those of us in the “west,” the media is quick to demonize entire countries. The world isn’t that simple. A dictator does not represent the everyday people. Religious extremist don’t represent the religion as a whole.

Having said that, this graphic novel was’t my favorite. The separated sections made it feel a bit choppy. I think the intention is to show quick vignettes over time. Persepolis takes place over 8 years so Satrapi jumps to the most important experiences. For me, it felt disjointed. That could also be due to a loss in translation. I think the core message of this book is excellent, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the presentation.

If you’re unfamiliar with the history of Iran, and want a more humanized explanation, you should read Persepolis. I’d also recommend the Iran episode of Parts Unknown. In any case, I think it’s worth asking yourself “what do I really know about this part of the world?” If you’ve only gotten information from the news, I strongly encourage you to look a little deeper. Do your own research. Read. Learn. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to remind yourself that those people on the other side of the world are still just people. People with flaws. People with hopes. They love, fear and live just like anyone else.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

 

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