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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.

 

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time- that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity towards conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

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.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Book Cover for Shrill by Lindy West

Publisher’s blurb (taken from Amazon): “Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.”

What I liked:

West does a good job of blending serious discussion topics with funny and heartfelt anecdotes. **Sensitive content warning** A lot of discussion points in this book are really heavy. Lindy talks at length about rape and rape culture, as well as threats of violence and trolling** Some of the comments she’s received (and published in the book) are truly horrifying, but unfortunately they aren’t uncommon. West is honest about the psychological effect of those comments, yet still manages to pull something positive out of the troll swamp.

This book is honest in a way that is sometimes uncomfortable, but I liked it. West doesn’t shy away from anything; body functions, family crises and humiliation are all on full display. At some points it’s a little cringe-worthy, but only because it’s so relatable.

‘Shrill’ isn’t just about being a woman. It isn’t just about being fat. It isn’t about being a comedian, or having an online presence. It’s a mash-up of all those life experiences, as told by someone who’s currently living them. This is a collection of essays, but it’s also a memoir about finding your voice when people just want you to shut up.

What I didn’t like:

I was hoping I’d come away from ‘Shrill’ feeling empowered and energized. Instead, I felt a little depressed about the realities of the world. I mentioned this same feeling in my review of ‘I Am Malala’. I think the book is meant to be inspirational, or at least heartening, but I didn’t feel that way when I set it down. I felt demoralized by how cruel and hurtful humans can be. Lindy is happy to claim the small victories, but for me they highlighted how far we have to go.

Would I recommend this book:

Yeah, but I’d let you know up front that it’s a solid “like”, not “love”.

Additional thoughts:

I appreciated the fact that West made sure to touch on issues of race and social class. She doesn’t go into a ton of detail, but those elements are mentioned. As a white, well-educated woman, her experiences aren’t totally universal, but I think most of us can relate to her basic points.

I’d categorize ‘Shrill’ as an essay memoir, or a collection of think-pieces about feminism. I’m not saying that categorization is either good or bad, but I’m not sure I agree with the publisher’s “rallying cry” description. To me, “rallying cry” implies a call to action, which ‘Shrill’ doesn’t do, or at least didn’t for me. If you’re looking for something that’s more instruction-oriented, I’d recommend ‘Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls’ by Jes Baker.

I wanted to end on the same note that West does, because I really loved this closing quote: “Fighting for diverse voices is world-building. Proclaiming the inherent value of fat people is world-building. Believing rape victims is world-building. Refusing to cave to abortion stigma is world-building. Voting is world-building. So is kindness, compassion, listening, making space, saying yes, saying no. We’re all building our world, right now, in real time. Let’s build it better.”

Book Reivew: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

Book Reivew: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

“When people talk about the way I was shot and what happened, I think it’s the story of Malala, “a girl shot by the Taliban”; I don’t feel it’s a story about me at all.” -Yousafzai

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.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb

Publisher’s blurb (taken from Amazon): “”I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.”

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.”

***

Do you ever feel like your contributions to the world aren’t being heard, or like your voice gets drowned out?

I certainly do.

‘I Am Malala’ will make you feel better, and worse, about that fact.

This book is, obviously, inspiring. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t mention that point. It highlights the impact that one voice can have. It demonstrates the amazing power of standing up for what you believe in, and how one teenager could reach the hearts and minds of the entire world.

For me, though, it also drove home the depressing points about humanity: how far people are willing to go to silence their opponents, and how deeply rooted humanity’s problems are. I’m not going to lie- there’s also the inevitable element of guilt- Malala won a Nobel Peace Prize before she turned 18, and what the heck am I doing with my life?!

As for the book itself, though, it’s well done, and a quick read. The writing is simple, yet powerful. Summing up the history of Pakistan to create context for this event is a tall order, but it was fairly easy to follow and I learned a lot about this area of the world (culturally, militarily and historically).

There are a lot (A LOT) of names, places, and acronyms to remember, which got a little bit overwhelming, but it made it clear how multi-faceted the conflicts are. We can pretty clearly label the Taliban as the bad guys, but other than that, things get a little murkier; where, exactly do the military stand? Who is truly an ally?

I think I was hoping for more information about Malala herself. The history of the region is necessary to understand the events, but I definitely preferred the sections about Malala’s day-to-day life. I think the quote I used above explains this, though. Malala doesn’t spend a ton of time talking about herself or her direct experiences. Instead, she presents herself in the context of her family, of her friends, of her school, of her country, and of Islam.

‘I Am Malala’ was published in 2013, and my copy has an additional intro and interview from 2015, after Malala was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. There’s a lot that has happened since then, and it’s particularly interesting to have read this book in the current political climate.

“He vowed to end corruption and go after those “guilty of plundering and looting the national wealth.” He promised he would make his own assets and tax returns public… [he] promised to end the old feudal system by which the same few dozen families controlled our entire country, and bring fresh young clean faces into politics. Instead his cabinet was made up of the very same old faces.” (Yousafzai and Lamb)

Fun fact: this passage is referring to General Musharraf, who became the controversial President of Pakistan during the “War on Terror”. Do his campaign promises sound at all familiar?

I don’t know- ‘I Am Malala’ put me in a weird head-space.

Is this book worth reading? Yes! Absolutely!

Will it make you question humanity and worry about the future? Probably. At least it did for me, because while her story is extraordinary and touching, it also brings to light how little things have changed. It highlights the ways in which politics, religion, money and extremism don’t play well together. It makes it clear that history repeats itself with different faces, in different places.

If you want to read about Malala’s story, but want something a little bit less involved, there’s a young reader’s edition of ‘I Am Malala‘, as well as picture books and introductory non-fiction.