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VINE VOICEon January 15, 2008
THE COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS brings together in one softbound volume two graphic novels published earlier in English (translated from French): PERSEPOLIS 1 - THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD, and PERSEPOLIS 2 - THE STORY OF A RETURN. As a single volume, Ms. Satrapi's work reads as a seamless story of an Iranian woman's maturation from a young girl in the Shah's (and Ayatollah Khomeini's) Iran to her high school years in Austria, back to the Iran attacked by Saddam Hussein and then transformed into a fundamentalist Islamic state, and finally back again to Europe as a young adult. The book's title is borrowed from the name of ancient Persia's ceremonial capital, dating back some 2,500 years, although Persepolis is in fact the Greek translation of the original Persian name, Parsa.

The story is strictly autobiographical, rendered as a memoir of childhood and young adulthood. Satrapi begins her story at age ten, the daughter of well-educated and well-off parents who put a premium on their daughter's religious and academic independence. Marjane's parents prod their pre-adolescent daughter toward a liberal education and encourage her to speak out. However, being a rebel against oppression in Iran leads inevitably to trouble and expulsion from school. Her parents recourse is to pack young Marjane off to Austria, isolated and alone in a foreign and far more secular culture. A series of mostly negative experiences leads her back to her homeland and an unsuccessful marriage during the early years of Iran's fundamentalist revolution with its growing religious oppression. When the young adult Marjane and her parents finally realize that her future lies not in Iran but in Europe, she heads off to France where she still lives today.

Ms. Satrapi characterizes herself as the perennial outsider wherever she lives. As a young girl, political and religious events contradict her upbringing and isolate her from the accepted beliefs and behaviors. The author conveys her childhood desperation by repeated depictions of herself talking to an ancient, white-bearded God, even cradled in his arms. She is even more the outsider in Austria, forever fumbling in her discoveries of Western culture only to become enslaved by some of its worst features. Returning to Iran after her high school years, Marjane is too Westernized to be Iranian, yet still too Iranian to feel Western. The author's journey to self-discovery and finding her true home serves as the core of her story, punctuated by her departures and arrivals. In fact, some of the most dramatic scenes in THE COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS take place at airports.

Satrapi's black-and-white cartooning emphasizes contrast over detail. Indeed, her drawings of people are exceedingly simplified, lacking in all except the basic features necessary to portray a character. This simplicity works, as it stands in stark contrast to the complexity of Iran's constantly changing social, political, and religious structures as well as the complexity of the author's own life and the choices she faced. These minimalist renderings, hardly more detailed than Schulz's "Peanuts" characters, create an even greater dissonance when their childlike simplicity clashes with the horrors of war and the Iranian government's seizures and executions of many of its citizens. The reader is so effectively lulled into this seemingly benign, comic book world that Satrapi's occasional dropping of an expletive into her character's thoughts or words has the force of a slap in the face. When young Marjane returns home to see the dead, braceleted arm of one of her neighborhood friends (killed by one of Saddam Hussein's missiles) extending from her wrecked home, the author resorts to the powerful simplicity of a completely black panel captioned, "No scream in the world could have relieved my suffering and my anger."

There is a natural temptation to compare PERSEPOLIS to Art Spiegelman's MAUS I and MAUS II. However, I believe the Maus books are sui generis, allegorical tales whose use of mice and cats puts Spiegelman's books in a class of their own. By contrast, Satrapi's PERSEPOLIS novels are autobiographical volumes rendered in illustrated form to trace an Iranian woman's struggle to find herself while still loving a country from which she feels irretrievably estranged. Satrapi's and Spiegelman's work complement one another and demonstrate the emotional power graphical novels are increasingly finding ways to achieve.
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on February 24, 2008
Last weekend I had the joy of seeing the film adaptation of the comic book series PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi. I loved the film. I knew though that I was missing out some key points of Marjane's life so I decided to check out the complete version of PERSEPOLIS in paperback. Although the book is in the form of a graphic novel, the story is a memoir of Marjane Satrapi's life growing up in Iran as well as outside of Iran. I also got the impression that the story is a love letter to Marjane's late grandmother who was a huge influence on Marjane as a young woman. People can nitpick at the details of life in Iran during and after the reign of the Shah that Marjane has written in the book but lets keep this in perspective that this book is not a tome on Iran but an autobiography told from the personal point of view from the author. She told what life was like in Iran through her young, impressionable eyes.

Like the Oscar-nominated film, PERSEPOLIS is told with a lot of humor, sadness, and often anger. I could not put the book down. I found myself deeply engrossed in Marjane's life as as child as well as an adult. I enjoyed the animation. I liked how fluid the shapes of the characters flowed. If you have seen the film adaptation of PERSEPOLIS, the book version is definitely worth reading. There is quite a bit of information from Marjane's life that just couldn't fit into the time constraints of the film.
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on December 24, 2007
As a child Marjane Satrapi lived through the 1979 Iranian Revolution and its aftermath.

Included here are Satrapi's internationally-acclaimed graphic novels, PERSEPOLIS: The STORY Of A CHILDHOOD and PERSEPOLIS 2: The STORY Of A RETURN. Combining clear analysis with a sharp sense of humor, the first volume tells the story of Marjane and her family's experiences during the final years of the Monarchy, its downfall, and the subsequent rise of Khomeini and the Islamic Republic. A more personal volume, PERSEPOLIS 2 follows Marjane's student years in Vienna and her later return to Iran.

Together with Vincent Paronnaud, Satrapi also co-wrote and co-directed the animated film version.
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on September 5, 2007
I read these books consecutively - having bought them as a box set - and I really enjoyed them. It gives us a genuinely intimate portrait of what life was like growing up in Iran, first under the Shah's right-wing dictatorship, then during the Islamic revolution which led to a clerical state and through the war with Iraq. The two-part memoir takes us from 1980 when Marjane was 10 years old through the 1990s when she's become a woman who had endured exile at a young age and a return to her country.

Because these are illustrated novels there isn't as much depth as there would be in a traditional novel. The characters aren't fleshed out in the narrative because we have the visual element available. And the visual element is wonderful. Through the relatively simple drawings the fear, turmoil, frustration and even humor of Marjane and her friends and family are easily identified and enrich the story tremendously.

At first I had a problem with the writing style - with the direct and simple prose. However, the more I read the more I became comfortable with the style, pacing and rhythm.

I would definitely recommend that these books be read together as a valuable introduction an overview of the history and traditions of Iran, as well as for the wonderful story of a little girl growing up in an impossibly complex and frightening environment.
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on February 16, 2007
These two graphic (pictorial) novels were two parts of the most moving autobiographies I have read. The illustrations showed the body language of the shyness of a child, the utter sadness of family separations, the slyness of bad behavior, the helplessness of living under a totalitarian government. The lack of full prose is more than supplanted by the drawings. The effect that the Iranian revolution had on this family will be felt for generations to come.

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VINE VOICEon January 5, 2007
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi, is a comic book style ("illustrated novel") autobiography of memories of life as a child in Iran just before and after the overthrow of the Shah (roughly 1978-82), and during the war with Iraq. Her parents are well-educated, seemingly progressive, and, through the eyes of a child, heroic.

Life changes. She experiences the mandatory use of the veil, stricter schools, hiding activities from nosy neighbors, and the phrase "...on a trip" as a code for death in war or by execution. Children play games of torturer and torturee. Satrapi reveals her evolution as a child rebel, albeit a selfish one focusing on the narrow-mindedness of youth... rebellion is wearing a Michael Jackson button and tight jeans in public. However, reality gets closer and closer... a favorite uncle is imprisoned and executed, a friend is killed in an Iraqi bomb attack, food is scare, and teachers are more draconian.

This book took about an hour to read. There is good congruence between the script and the drawings, but the style of presentation as an illustrated novel means there is no depth to the story.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, is Satrapi's second installment of her graphic novel autobiography. After reading it (can the experience of a graphic novel be adequately described as "reading"?), I felt that it was an important and vital addition to the first Persepolis installment. In Persepolis 2, Satrapi is sent to Austria for an Ayatollah-free education. She meets people unlike herself, and unlike the other Iranians she knew. She thought she was a free-thinking liberal, but that was in the context of Iranian culture, not European.

I think this book needs to be read after Persepolis 1. With this boxed set, the novels should be read together.

The detail in 2 is much greater than in 1. I would guess this is related to the richer memories of adolescence and adulthood. Satrapi is very open and blunt about her vulnerabilities and transgressions.

I feel that I need to read a Persepolis 3. That is not a bad result for any author!
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on December 8, 2007
This book collects Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Both books are graphic novels telling the true story of the author's life. Book one tells the story of her girlhood in Iran and ends when she leaves Iran to go to a boarding school in Austria. Book two picks up where book one left off, and tells the rest of her story up to the point where she leaves Iran for the second and last time. This is a great, moving story. I found myself empathizing with this girl, even though she comes from a culture nothing like mine and we have nothing in common. It obviously wasn't easy growing up a progressive girl in a represive culture. I could go on and on about the virtues of this book, but it's better if you just read it and find out for yourself. Or see the "major motion picture". (aren't all motion pictures "major"? at least according to their publicity.)
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on September 3, 2011
I have mixed feelings about Persepolis.

The first half (the original first volume) was overall excellent and eye-opening. Very much a view of this turbulent period in Iran from the point of view of a child. However, near the end of the first volume and for near all of the second, I find myself disliking the narrator more and more. She is a child of privilege, yet never seems to acknowledge this after her initial "Oh, the poor maid" vignette. The story becomes more and more internal, focusing on the narrator's "suffering," which amounts to typical teenaged angst spiced by the woes that many immigrants have faced across time and place. I would have liked to see a more reflective look at this period of the narrator's life, something written from the point of view of an adult looking back rather than from the point of view of the spoiled adolescent, something that took place in history, rather than just inside the narrator's head. And that is what most turned me off of the second half. The narrator of the second half IS a spoiled adolescent and this fact is rarely, if ever, reflected upon. She comes from an incredibly privileged position, with her parents able to send her off to school and away from a war zone, yet she manages to continually make poor choices: mouthing off to those she is beholden to, doing and dealing drugs, and refusing to even consider others' foibles.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did not finish reading the book. This was as far as I got before I decided to put it down. It is entirely possible that it got better, that there WAS a reflective voice later on, but I found myself so frustrated by the middle section that I felt no need to continue through it.

I do, however, recommend at least trying to read it. The first half, as noted before, was certainly worthwhile and it is possible that those with less baggage than I would find the adolescent narrator less grating. For myself, I am happy to have read the first half, but am just as happy to have set it down in the second.
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on October 29, 2007
i am not someone who typically enjoys 'cartoon' strips, but i could not put this book down and read it fervently. i received this book as a gift after having visited iran a couple of times, and i was interested in learning more about the history and culture. what marjiane captures of her childhood, and her evolution into adulthood, is thoughtful, amusing, heart-breaking and at times hilarious. at times she softens the brutality of her words with the humor of amusing caricatures, or sometimes the simplicity of what she sees as a child is made more stark and tragic by her drawings. her personal journey and her family's experiences during and after the revolution really give one pause. i would highly recommend this book, it is rich with humor and emotion.
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on April 16, 2011
Satrapi said she didn't want to write a text-only book on her subject because the Western world, the people who she felt needed to know her story, probably would not want to read fine prose about horrible events in Iran from 1970~1994. Making this a graphic novel definitely works because the pictures not only provide entertainment but also show Satrapi's perspective on the world developing perspective as she aged.

I read all 330+ pages in one sitting one evening. It reads really quickly because there's very little text per page. As long as you can take in the illustrations and get the idea pretty quickly, you're good to go. Of course, I also want to recommend going slowly and really enjoying the illustrations. I went over it a second time just to get a good feel for the artwork, and it was absolutely worth it.

The film version of this book is pretty poor by my opinion. There's potentially an entire movie about all the characters who were left out of the film but seemed almost essential in the book. Also, facts were either changed or were left out so that the story appeared differently. For example, instead of showing Satrapi struggling with antidepressants and then quitting, the film seemed to depict a scenario in which Satrapi just kept taking loads of antidepressants until she somehow got better.

The book is really the Persepolis to experience. I'm glad I bought it and read it, and I feel like I was really missing out on quite a bit of history before. Buy it and enjoy it, and you'll eagerly learn a lot about Iran since Western imperialism again began twisting around its people.
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