Author: Marjane Satrapi
This autobiographical, intelligent, witty, and honest graphic novel paints a picture of Marjane’s (fondly called Marji) life in Iran after the Shah was overthrown and at the advent of the Islamic revolution. Marji – an extrovert girl finds her world turned upside down when her French school is suddenly shut down and same-sex schools are opened where girls have to wear veils. (As a Muslim, I think entire civilizations have been wiped out with a single veil. Nothing to do with being a feminist, because I am not, but that’s how it all starts.) The graphic novel then tells the story of a child growing up in a nation that slowly becomes nothing one can recognize.
Persepolis has two parts – The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return. As a child, Marji talks to God (which reminded me of myself), wants to be a prophet, and is exceedingly informed and intelligent for her age. Her parents treat her as an individual with her own opinions and include her in all discussions whether about politics or books or even boys. Slowly, as Iran’s intelligentsia finds themselves in danger and it’s future appears bleak, Marji’s parents decide to send her abroad to study. But not before she is fully exposed to the fundamentalism, oppression in the form of fact-twisting, and a contrived syllabus in all educational institutions. After much faith-keeping and resistance, Marji concedes to her parents’ wish and leaves for a French school in Vienna.
Now starts the journey of a teenager in a foreign nation who has little idea of how her country is perceived from outside its borders. In vivid, graphic frames we see Marji struggle with alienation in a foreign country and her decadence. She is not the same headstrong girl who went to demonstrations in Iran to stand up for her rights. She jumps headlong into denial, drugs, and depression. So much so that she finds that the only way to return to herself was to return home to Iran. And so she does.
This book was recommend to me in the form of the film of the same name. Boy asked me to see it, and since a movie was made on a book, the first thing any self-respecting reader would do was read the book. Also, this reading happened close on the heels of From the Holy Mountain. The latter being about the rise of Islam and the former about the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
It seems that Satrapi titled this book Persepolis as a metaphor to a city that was, a culture that’s now nothing but a fascination found in stories. She’s also written about the earlier Persia that they knew. This brings me to a personal grouse with the gradual erosion of the Middle East. It has nothing to do with religion and politics. It has everything to do with the extinction of a rich and vast cultural heritage. People die, yes. But the extreme destruction caused to the oldest civilizations, architecture, and culture is far more alarming to me than a mass exodus. Persepolis, for me, is just a reminder of that sorry erosion, and the author would concede.