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Category: Graphic Novel

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.

 

Mini Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney

Mini Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney

“Chemicals released from the pain raced through my head and my body. This was an initiation ritual, & I was stepping through a flaming doorway. I was walking on red hot coals. I was being transformed.” (Forney, pg. 5)

The links below will take you to Amazon.com. Disclosure: LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me by Ellen Forney

Cover blurb (from Amazon): “Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Flagrantly manic and terrified that medications would cause her to lose creativity, she began a years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her passions and creativity.

Searching to make sense of the popular concept of the crazy artist, she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Styron, and Sylvia Plath. She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to “cure” an otherwise brilliant mind.

Darkly funny and intensely personal, Forney’s memoir provides a visceral glimpse into the effects of a mood disorder on an artist’s work, as she shares her own story through bold black-and-white images and evocative prose.”

***

Marbles hits the sweet spot of a heavy topic handled with self-depreciating humor. Forney makes bipolar disorder more approachable for those who don’t have any experience with the topic. Things don’t always go smoothly and treatment isn’t a one-stop fix. She doesn’t shy away from the unflattering aspects but she isn’t doom and gloom, either. Overall, I felt like this book was a realistic representation: hard, but hopeful.

In my opinion, illustrations are extremely helpful when writing about mental disorders. Sometimes words just don’t do an emotion justice. The art of Marbles plays a huge role in portraying the author’s experience. The comic style is simplistic but the emotions are clear.

**Spoiler alert/sensitive content warning** Obviously, Marbles talks a great deal about mental health. This includes treatment options (including medication) and common side effects of this disorder (drug use and suicide). There are also a number of scenes that deal with sexuality and the illustrations are fairly literal.**

I think this would be an excellent book to read if you don’t know much about bipolar disorder. Mental health stereotypes are pervasive. Being bipolar isn’t a synonym for mood swings. This diagnosis is life-altering, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be stigmatized. Forney’s style and openness make this topic much easier to talk about.

This is a quick, but informative read. This author’s experience doesn’t represent everyone but I think it gives some really good insights into the mind of someone struggling with their mental health. If we all had a rudimentary (but accurate) understanding of psychology, I think we could create a kinder, more sympathetic world. And that is never a bad thing.

Book Review: Intro to Alien Invasion by King and Poirier

Book Review: Intro to Alien Invasion by King and Poirier

The links below will take you to Amazon.com. Disclosure: LiteratureLynx is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This adds no additional cost to you.

Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King and Mark Jude Poirier

Cover blurb (from Amazon): “Stacey, a brilliant, overachieving astrobiology major at Fenton College, had planned on just another lonely Spring Break on campus. But when a hurricane batters the small college town, downing power lines and knocking out cell phone reception, Stacey and her friends are stranded with no way to communicate with the outside world at the worst possible moment: in the midst of an alien invasion.

As space insects begin to burrow into students and staff, transforming them into slobbering, babbling monsters, a conglomeration of misfits must band together to prevent the infestation from spreading. Meanwhile, Stacey’s long-stifled romantic feelings for her friend Charlotte begin to surface, while the professor she had admired and respected becomes the students’ worst enemy.

Illustrated with enormous wit and dynamism—mixing classic tropes from science fiction, indie comics, B-movies, and campus culture—this graphic novel is something different, a large-scale action/adventure story as seen from the point-of-view of a contemporary, realistic heroine. The result is a funny and singular work unlike anything else you’ve ever read.”

***

What I liked: 

I loved the vibe of ‘Intro to Alien Invasion.’ It’s set on a contemporary college campus and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In the midst of fighting space insects, there are little jabs at tuition prices and spring-breakers. I mentioned this point in a previous review, but there is a significant lack of fiction written about college students. ‘Intro to Alien Invasion’ might be goofy science fiction, but it’s also a humorous look at college culture.

Female characters take center stage in this graphic novel, which I really appreciate. These ladies are smart, resourceful and willing to face down danger. Sarcasm is plentiful, and I felt like the relationships were realistic. Additionally, I enjoyed the fact that Stacey and her friend Gina are both science majors (astrobiology and physics, respectively).

What I didn’t like:

I was hoping for more in-depth character and relationship development. To be fair, that might be an unrealistic expectation on my part. Based on the cover blurb, it sounded like Stacey and Charlotte’s romantic relationship would play a large role in the story. It’s there, but it isn’t a focus.

Graphic novels aren’t my go-to genre for that very reason. I always walk away feeling like it was over too quickly, and there wasn’t enough character depth. Maybe it’s just a genre thing, or maybe I’m missing the point. Either way, I’m finding that I feel this same way after almost every graphic novel I read. ‘Intro to Alien Invasion’ is fun and fast-paced, but I was left wanting more.

Would I recommend this book?

Sure. For me it’s not a must-read, but it was enjoyable.

**Sensitive content warning/spoiler alert** ‘Intro to Alien Invasion’ includes a scene where a professor tries to proposition a student. It’s fairly tame, but worth mentioning. I thought that the violence and gore were pretty tame as well. The alien bugs invade people’s bodies, so there are a few gross panels, but they’re not gory. Drugs, alcohol and possibly offensive language are present, which was unsurprising to me, based on the setting.**

Based on everything else I’ve been reading lately, this book felt light, fluffy and fun. My last few reviews have all required extensive warning sections. This book doesn’t.

Additional thoughts:

‘Intro to Alien Invasion’ is cute. Or, as cute as a story about body-infesting aliens can be. I read the entire thing in about an hour. It doesn’t take any serious thought and it doesn’t require any emotional energy.

For a science fiction graphic novel, I’m pleased with the representation. In addition to the LGBTQ+ story line, Stacey’s friend Gina is in a wheelchair. King, Poirier and Ahn (the illustrator) make sure to show what Gina’s experience is like in the midst of battle. She’s capable of fighting for herself, but they acknowledge her specific challenges. It’s well done and inclusive. Race is never specifically addressed. There appears to be a token black character (based on the illustrations) but the cartoonish style makes it hard to tell.

Having said that, though, I admire the fact that the diversity doesn’t drive the story. As I mentioned in my ‘Annoying Book Tropes’ post, diversity doesn’t need to be the central conflict of a plot. This is a good example of that. These characters are average college students, put into unusual circumstances.

This was a fun way to spend an hour, but it wasn’t life changing. If you need a light adventure, ‘Intro to Alien Invasion’ would be a good choice.