I have been fascinated by this story for a long time, but have never had the opportunity to read it. Once I finally got my hands on it, I devoured it. This is only the second graphic novel I’ve ever read, and this one was particularly interesting since it is a memoir as well.
Persepolis is the coming of age story of Marjane Satrapi as she grows up in Revolutionary Iran. We see her as a child raised by a very open and free-thinking family, and this very much shapes her. At the beginning she is close to her family and God and wants to please them. But as the war evolves, so does her understanding of the world around her. The war hardens her and tests what she stands for and believes. As things escalates, her family sends her to school in Austria. Even though she is out of harms way, she is faced with her own hardships and struggles to accept her Iranian identity.
The only other graphic novel I’ve ever read was a Superman one recommended by Logan, so this was a different take. The images were all black and white but I didn’t find myself wishing for more. They were beautiful in their simplicity, and allowed the reader to take in the parts that were the most important. Satrapi used most of the frames to illustrate a situation or have someone tell something important. But sometimes this pattern was broken by frames that took up a whole or half page and had very little text. These images were usually very stunning, and have more depth than others. I liked these because I would just sit for a moment and soak it all up. As a newbie to graphic novels, I liked that the frames with important or more detailed information were larger so they could be studied more.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story. I feel like the author did a great job of explaining the reasons for the conflicts but also her inner struggle to make sense of it. I also enjoyed how she explained some of the ways Iranian society dealt with the changes or resisted them. I learned so much from this, by living vicariously through these formative years in her life. That was what I really hoped for in this graphic novel, and I’m so glad that it was in this easily digestable format. War and revolution is complicated, no matter what. But the Middle East is particularly complicated with centuries of rivalries and border changes. So this was a great way for me to dip my toes into understanding further, and I definitely have a new perspective.
One thing I found particularly fascinating as a Westerner was how Marji deals with becoming ‘Westernized’. This is exactly what a lot of her country is trying to resist. Before her move to Amsterdam, she somewhat idealizes punk and these stars from other cultures. When she gets there she experiences parties where everyone gets high and drunk and sit around. She learns about the sexual revolution from an awkward situation with a friend. This part had me laughing out loud! But as she struggles through school, prejudice and a stint with homelessness – her views change more drastically.
Even those that she viewed as her friends can’t understand the effect being bombed has on your view of life, and they aren’t there for her when she falls very ill. Through this illness, she starts to realize just how much she misses her family and wants to be with them, because they will be understanding and supportive no matter what.
Upon her return to Iran, she finds the country has changed just as much as she has. Her old friends have dealt more directly with the war, and Marjane deals with guilt from this. Eventually, she crafts her own life back in Iran and decides who she wants to be. I also enjoyed following along as she learned to be a graphic artist. It was so cool to be reading this book, which was so clearly the result of her studies I was reading about.
I will definitely be rereading this someday, maybe even just partiality. I know I could learn more on a second reading – and I think it’s important that I understand all the sides of these conflicts that shape our world.