on March 8, 2005
I read Persepolis tonight.
I mean the whole thing. I started it after dinner, and just finished it at the 153rd page. For those of you who've read, or should I say "experienced" this work, that won't come as a surprise. For those of you who haven't, consider it a high-endorsement. I had other plans for my night...
..I also had my doubts about this work. Despite the rave reviews, I've never even read a comic book. That, coupled with the fact that at first glance, it seemed very...well, childish?
Oh the shame! Marjane Satrapi has created an apologetic convert out of me.
Persepolis is the story of one girls experience during the fall of the Shah of Iran, the ensuing Islamic Revolution (which included Stalin like "purges"), and war with Iraq. Only it's not told in plain text, but rather is a pictured in a comic book style.
A history buff myself, I have an above-average awareness of the historical goings on of that period. However, told in this unorthodox style, with pictures, through the creative and emotional eyes of a child, the "facts" gained a vibrance and color for me like never before. The human side of history had so much more meaning, and seemed to imprint a deeper and easier understanding in my mind than most accounts.
When I was thinking about what was so compelling about this book, I thought of Edward Tufte. He's a famous professor and scientist in the field of displaying information graphically. I went to a seminar by him once. He passionately explained the concept of neural bandwidth, and how most text and plain graphs don't take advantage of the massive processing power of our minds. The pictures in Persepolis, coupled with Marjane's rich historical account seemed to take advantage of that latent neural ability. For me, they compounded and achieved something of an emotional critical mass of understanding that few books have.
So, like I said, I'm a convert. I just ordered her second work "The Story of a Return". Only this time, I'll have a nice bottle of wine, and no plans for the night.
Santa Barbara, California
on July 18, 2003
PERSEPOLIS is a graphical autobiography of the author, who experienced the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war as a child in the 1970s and 1980s. It is told in the beatiful black and white graphical language of a comic strip where simple pictures communicate strong feelings, much better than words could.
But PERSEPOLIS is also the story or a whole generation of young Iranians, who left their land in the quest of better conditions during the post-revolutionary era. I belong to this generation myself and I totally identified with the experiences Ms SATRAPI went through- her childhood in post revolutionary Iran, her description of Iranian society at the time, her exile in Austria- also in the volumes 2 & 3 (which already appeared in French).
Though conceived as a comic book, the book has messages which are not childish in nature: the child, through the naiveness of her views, points out to many of the contradictions of Iranian society that adults are unwilling to face.
It is also one of the rare unbiased personal accounts of what happened in Iran at the time of ther evolution and as such, is an interesting document on this period of Iranian history.
(It certainly contains more information on Iran and its people than the junk broadcasted on most TV channels).
Some readers (including reviews posted here) criticize this book for not being a realistic description of Iran. Though I totally disagree with this criticism, the main point is that PERSEPOLIS is NOT a history book nor a sociological study. It is a story, the story of a childhood and the author has never claimed it to be otherwise.
I definitely recommend this book, first to all Iranians who live abroad, especially those who did not grow up in Iran and did not
experience the revolution, and then to all readers interested in getting a human, insider view of what Iranian society was like in the early 1980s.
on May 9, 2003
At last this gem reaches us in America, after raking in awards all over Europe. Not only is it a very timely and revealing peek inside daily life in Iran, it's also a very personal, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking slice of one remarkable girl's life. There really is nothing quite like it, it's true. I've given copies of it to all my friends, many of whom never read graphic novels or comic books, but they all agree: this is something special. It's not suitable for kids though, because of its depiction of torture and violence and other mature themes you might expect in a society under the yoke of fundamentalist islamic rule. But for everyone else, I highly recommend PERSEPOLIS.
This is an exceptional childhood memoir, that ranks with Angela's Ashes for its depth and authenticity. This one will be around forever.
on September 7, 2004
In "Persepolis," Marjane Satrapi writes a fascinating and moving memoir of her childhood in Iran, a country torn by uprisings, war, and political and cultural upheaval. She has written this graphic autobiography as a testament to her beloved Iran and as a remembrance of those who have suffered, lost their lives, or fled their homeland due to war and oppression. She says that "One can forgive but one should never forget."
The story opens at Satrapi's birth under the Shah's regime, and follows her life through Iran's revolution, conversion to an Islamic regime, and war with Iraq. A precocious single child of progressive activist parents, she is a witness to the complications and contradictions of Iranian daily life, both private and public. She recalls the first day the girls are forced to wear the veil at school. Through a child's innocent eyes, she describes her fears of the imprisonment, torture, and execution of friends, family, and neighbors, as well as of the bombings, oppression, and harassment that have become part of the fabric of her life. In spite of the turmoil, the author is a typical adolescent who takes risks by obtaining forbidden rock star posters, attending parties, wearing jewelry and jeans, and arguing politics with her teachers. Above all else, she is a spunky and lovable child who looks for freedom wherever she can obtain it and manages to triumph over her restrictive surroundings.
The illustrations provide a simple but powerful depiction of the events in the author's life. Many of the drawings have a dream-like quality that accentuates the emotional impact of the joys, sadness, violence, and familial love that Satrapi experiences. This touching story reminds me of Hosseini's "The Kite Runner." I recommend both as excellent coming-of-age stories in tumultuous foreign settings.
In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi uses the graphic novel format to share her life story with readers. Satrapi grew up in Iran during the years that the Shah lost power and the Fundamentalist Muslims became the government authority.
Satrapi was raised in a modern family that valued education and modern life. Her parents were part of the revolution that forced the Shah from power. They were shocked, however, when the ultra-religous government that took over soon made the freedoms they were used to and expected illegal. No longer could women dress as they pleased; they were instead forced to wear the veil. No longer could the Iranian people travel freely; the borders were closed for over three years, and even when reopened, passports were almost impossible to obtain. No longer could one count on an education; the universities were closed for over two years.
Darker items were to follow. There were 3000 political prisoners under the Shah, but there were 300,000 political prisoners under the new regime. Satrapi's family had both relatives and friends that were imprisoned, tortured and some were even executed. Then the government got involved in a war with Iraqi. Bombings were common, and over a million people were killed.
Satrapi's use of the graphic format is a perfect match to the story of a young girl whose life changes so dramatically and who tries to make sense of the things happening around her with a child's understanding. Satrapi ended up being educated outside of Iran in her teen years and later, and chose a graphic artist's career. This book was a perfect match for her talent, and her memoir is chilling. To see freedoms taken away gradually is difficult, and when one looks up and sees where the normality markers have moved to, it is eye-opening. This book is recommended to all readers who care about world events, and those who enjoy memoirs.
on May 30, 2003
Challenged by reading traditional memoirs that only give you a vague sense of what it's like to live in a foreign land? Look no more! Marjane Satrapi's book about growing up during the Iranian revolution is engaging, witty, well drawn and something you'll finish in one sitting. Ms. Satrapi finds the common thread of everyone's childhood (her recollection of wanting to grow up to be a prophet is hilarious) but also expresses her unique voice and identity as the daughter of liberal Iranians whose views ended up being thwarted by the new regime that was ushered in following the 1979 revolution. Even if you don't have an interest in Iranian history/politics, I guarantee you'll love this book!
on May 21, 2003
Although my French is not that good, I purchased all three volumes of Persepolis while I was in Paris (I wasn't sure if it had been translated to English) and read them all in one day! This interesting and adorable book pulls you in from the very start and keeps you interested until the end. So much so that you wish that the story of Marji would just keep going. I highly recommend this to all Iranians and non/Iranians alike. Particulary those women who experienced life in Iran and then left for another country at an early age. It's a MUST READ.
on May 28, 2003
Being an American woman roughly Marjane's age, I grew up knowing nearly nothing of the conflict in the Middle East, certainly not understanding it. This work fantastically illustrates all that happened in Iran (a lot!) in the late twentieth century, and how a teenage girl came to understand it and form her own opinions. It is extremely well-told and illustrated. I read the book in one setting and anxiously await the next two volumes to be translated into English. For any fan of graphic novels, I highly recommend this one.
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (Pantheon, 2003)
Persepolis is that rarest of birds, a graphic novel that has transcended the idea of the graphic novel and gained a strong foothold in the world of mainstream literature; not since Maus has a book with so much of its content devoted to illustration gotten such a huge following among those who'd never otherwise consider looking at a "comic book." Tack on any hopes that spring immediately to mind here; you're likely to have them dashed, just like we did with Maus. But still, maybe a handful will go on to discover David B. or Kyle Baker or Neil Gaiman's graphic work, and it will all have meant something.
Persepolis is the first piece of Marjane Satrapi's autobiography, and it deals with her childhood and youth first in the Shah's regime, then after the overthrow by Ayatollah Khomeini (though, oddly, Khomeini is never mentioned by name once in the book; I hesitate to offer, while hoping it's true, that perhaps Satrapi keeps him unnamed as a show of disdain). Her stated goal is to show the world that many Muslims living under oppressive regimes are not tower-bombing fanatics, a stance that does raise more questions than it answers (most importantly, why share a religion with such nutcases?, a question that should not, of course, be limited only to those who follow Islam). That aside, Satrapi does achieve her goal quite handily, and it may well be an eye-opener for those who did not previously realize that not everyone in Iran is, in fact, a dangerous zealot.
The artwork, not surprisingly, has that sort of L'Association feel about it that was also present in David B's award-winning Epileptic; everyone seems a bit rounder than one normally finds in comics, without many angles at all, seeming somewhat vague and unformed. The dialogue is subtly geared towards what a child/youth would hear, while the infrequent narration is imparted in an adult tone, giving the book a nice added touch of veracity. A very good start to the series. *** ½
on June 28, 2003
PERSEPOLIS is what has come to be known as a "graphic novel." In its purist form, a graphic novel is a story told through sequential art. A friend of mine, upon receiving a copy of THE ROAD TO PERDITION that I sent to him, called me and exclaimed in delight, "I didn't know they had these things! It's like a comic book!" And yes, it is. When it's well done, it's not as easy as it looks and not simply something for lazy readers. You must have an excellent writer, a sensitive illustrator, and empathy between them to make it work.
Marjane Satrapi demonstrates her writing and artistic skills in PERSEPOLIS, which tells the story of Satrapi's early childhood, with the main focus being on her life from age ten through fourteen, from 1980 through 1984. Those were particularly turbulent years for Satrapi's native country of Iran, encompassing the overthrow of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (the Shah of Iran), the installation of the Islamic Republic, and the war with Iraq. The story is told entirely through the eyes of Satrapi, the child, and how these events affected her parents, her relatives, her friends, and herself. In her introduction to PERSEPOLIS, Satrapi notes that writing this book was so important to her since her native country is associated with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism; she does not want the entire nation judged, in her words, upon the actions of a few extremists. She additionally does not want the victims of these actions to be forgotten. In this, she succeeds: Satrapi's stark black and white images cast an appropriate and memorable gloom over her story.
PERSEPOLIS has been compared to MAUS, and certainly Satrapi's topic is somewhat similar, but her artistic style is closer to that of Los Bros Hernandez, whose brilliant LOVE AND ROCKETS is sadly missed. While Satrapi's artistic technique tends toward the spare, she wrings every possible emotion out of each drawing, communicating with a few strokes and shades what might otherwise take paragraphs, or even pages of words. When, for instance, she learns of the execution of her favorite uncle at the hands of the Islamic Republic, her reaction, her emotional devastation, is communicated ever so eloquently in a single, stark panel. It is almost anti-climactic when she rejects the personification of God afterward. Even the images of playtime and recreation --- those things that we here in the United States take for granted --- are subtlety infused with somber overtones.
PERSEPOLIS ends with Satrapi's parents sending her to Austria to avoid the repercussions of the Islamic government. One is left wondering what became of Satrapi and her parents. Satrapi is reportedly working on a sequel to PERSEPOLIS, which undoubtedly will be most welcomed by readers of this volume.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub