Review Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, #1 Best Seller in Iran History

The graphic novel begins with an introduction to the life of a ten year old – Marji – in 1980, the year after the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi focuses on a child’s view of the Islamic Revolution, a time when girls were obliged to wear the veil, schools were segregated by gender (whereas Marji previously attended a co-ed school), and secular education was abolished. In school, Marji learns about revolutions and socialism while observing oppression by the Shah in her daily life. Although her anti-authoritarian/patriarchy attitude is inspired by her favorite comic book “Dialectic Materialism,” she is barred from attending protests due to her age.

Outside of school, Marji uncovers her family background. In 1925, around 50 years prior, Reza Shah was the father of the current king and was influenced and supported by the British to organize a coup d’état to overthrow the Qajar emperor, who also happens to be her great-grandfather. The Shah confiscated everything belonging to her grandfather’s family and her Western-educated grandfather was appointed as prime minister, but was imprisoned after his turn to communism. After learning about her family history and speaking to her grandmother, Marji vows to read everything she can to better understand the Revolution.

Through her research, Marji reads a work by Ali Ashraf Darvishian – a Kurdish author – illuminating the class structures in her society. This prompts Marji to reflect on her own home, specifically with her nursemaid Mehri. Once she learns of Mehri’s failed past love, she does not understand why, as her father explains, “their love was impossible” since one must stay in one’s own social class. Marji sees this as unjust and convinces Mehri to attend anti-Shah demonstrations with her on Black Friday. The massacre that occurred on Black Friday was just the beginning of an extended period of violence, leading to the decline and exile of the Shah in Egypt. The celebration that ensued his exile prompts Marji to become more aware of politics and the fickleness of human nature, as she observes former supporters of the Shah now touting pro-revolution propaganda and support.

On March of 1979, 3,000 political prisoners were released. The end of the Revolution brought about an end to her interest in “Dialectical Materialism” comics and she seeks solace in her faith. Her uncle Anoosh, one of her father’s five brothers, visits Marji and recounts how he was imprisoned for nine years as a communist revolutionary and hero. As he re-tells his story, he states that Marji’s grandfather was loyal to the Shah, but him and his uncle Fereydoon were devoted to ideals of justice and democracy. This prompted them to attempt to bring about independence from the shah; however, he was later imprisoned. He encourages Marji to remember his story, even if she has difficulty understanding it, because it is their “family memory” and it must not be lost. Marji’s family soon discovers that their communist-revolutionary friends who had just been released from prison are either dead or fled, and Anoosh is arrested and executed as a Russian spy. These events leave Marji in tears. She feels lost and proceeds to reject her faith, when bombs begin to fall on Iran. As fundamentalist students were reported in the news taking over the U.S. embassy, Marji’s family observes their neighbors changing their behavior to suit the new regime, as if they had always adhered to fundamentalist ways. Her family goes on an abrupt vacation for three weeks to Spain and Italy, only to return home to the announcement of war with Iraq – the second Arab invasion in 1400 years. Marji’s father is doubtful of Iran’s ability to defend itself since all pilots of the fighter jets were either jailed or executed after a failed coup d’état and is disillusioned with the Islamic-Fundamentalist government, an attitude that Marji interprets as defeatist and unpatriotic.

Although the Iraqi army had more modern weaponry, Iran had a greater number of young soldiers. Marji notices the number of ‘martyrs’ reported in the daily news and the twice-daily funeral marches with self-flagellation sessions at her school. After the border towns, Tehran itself became a target, and the basement of Marji’s building was turned into a bomb shelter. Having weekly parties or card games with wine expertly and secretly made by Marji’s uncle was their only way to alleviate the stress of their new lives and a way to privately revolt against the new regime.

After two years of war, at the early age of twelve (1982), Marji is very astute and begins to explore her rebellious side by skipping classes and obsessing over boys. She learns that the Iranian army had successfully pushed the Iraqi army back to the orders; however the war did not end. The fundamentalist regime used war as an excuse to exterminate all internal enemies as well and became more oppressive.

Marji’s parents go on a holiday to Turkey once the borders are reopened in 1983 and smuggle many banned gifts back to Iran for her. With her mother’s permission, Marji ventures out to connect with the black market that has grown around the shortages caused by war and repression. She is stopped by members of the new woman’s branch of the Guardians of the Revolution who are unimpressed with her new ‘symbols of decadence,’ improperly worn head scarf and too-tight jeans and threaten to bring her in front of their HQ committee where she would likely be physically punished or detained without consent.

One fatal Saturday, Marji rushes home when she discovers a long-range ballistic missile has hit her street. After succumbing to her own sadness after being traumatized by the personal discovery of her friend’s body, Marji is suddenly, and understandably, overcome with rage. In response to the death of her neighbor’s daughter, at the age of fourteen, Marji becomes a fearless rebel and is expelled from school after punching the principal. Her mother is gripped with fear by her rebelliousness, explaining that she risks execution, which is even worse for young women because it is against the law to kill a virgin. To circumvent this law, a Guardian of the Revolution will marry a condemned virgin, take her virginity, execute her, then send a meagre dowry (and message) to her family. In order to save Marji from such a fate, her family decides to send her to Austria to attend French school.

 

 

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Delectable. . . Dances with drama and insouciant wit.” –The New York Times Book Review

“A dazzlingly singular achievement. . . . Striking a perfect balance between the fantasies and neighborhood conspiracies of childhood and the mounting lunacy of Khomeini’s reign, she’s like the Persian love child of Spiegelman and Lynda Barry.” –Salon

“A brilliant and unusual graphic memoir. . . . [Told] in a guileless voice . . . accompanied by a series of black-and-white drawings that dramatically illustrate how a repressive regime deforms ordinary lives.”–Vogue

“Odds are, you’ll be too busy being entertained to realize how much you’ve learned until you turn the last page.”–Elle.com

“[A] self-portrait of the artist as a young girl, rendered in graceful black-and-white comics that apply a childlike sensibility to the bleak lowlights of recent Iranian history. . . . [Her] style is powerful; it persuasively communicates confusion and horror through the eyes of a precocious preteen.” –Village Voice

” This is an excellent comic book, that deserves a place with Joe Sacco and even Art Spiegelman. In her bold black and white panels, Satrapi eloquently reasserts the moral bankruptcy of all political dogma and religious conformity; how it bullies, how it murders, and how it may always be ridiculed by individual rebellions of the spirit and the intellect.” –Zadie Smith, author of The Autograph Man and White Teeth

You’ve never seen anything like Persepolisthe intimacy of a memoir, the irresistability of a comic book, and the political depth of a the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy. Marjane Satrapi may have given us a new genre.”
–Gloria Steinem

I grew up reading the Mexican comics of Gabriel Vargas, graduated to the political teachings of Rius, fell under the spell of Linda Barry, Art Spiegelman, and now I am a fan of Marjane Satrapi. Her stories thrummed in my heart for days. Persepolis is part history book, part Scheherazade, astonishing as only true stories can be. I learned much about the history of Iran, but more importantly, it gave me hope for humanity in these unkind times.
—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and Caramelo

I thought [Persepolis] was a superb piece of work, not only for the child’s eye view—the developing child’s eye view—of a society unknown to many of us in the west, and feared and suspected in proportion to being unknown…. Satrap has found a way of depicting human beings that is both simple and immediately comprehensible, AND is almost infinitely flexible. Anyone who’s tried to draw a simplified version of a human face knows how immensely difficult it is not only to give the faces a range of expression, but also to maintain identities from one frame to the next. It’s an enormous technical accomplishment.”
–Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.

I cannot praise enough Marjane Satrapi’s moving account of growing up as a spirited young girl in revolutionary and war-time Iran. Persepolis is disarming and often humorous but ultimately it is shattering.”
— Joe Sacco, author of Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde

This witty, moving and illuminating book demonstrates graphically why the future of Iran lies with neither the clerics nor the American Empire.
–Tariq Ali Author of The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity

“I found the work immensely moving with depths of nuance and wisdom that one might never expect to find in a comic book. It’s a powerful, mysterious, enchanting story that manages to reflect a great swath of Iranian contemporary history within the sensitive, intimate tale of a young girl’s coming-of-age. I didn’t want it to end!”
—Diana Abu-Jaber, Author of Crescent and Arabian Jazz

“A rare and chilling memoir that offers every reader a personal, honest portrait of Iran’s recent political and cultural history. Ms. Satrapi’s provocative, graphic narrative of life in Iran before and after the Islamic revolution is an extraordinary testament to the level of human suffering experienced by Iranians tossed from one political hypocrisy to another. Aside from the humanistic dimension, the beautifully minimalist Persepolis gives further evidence of Marjane Satrapi’s sensitivity and superb skill as an artist.”
–Shirin Neshat, visual artist/filmmaker

“Readers who have always wanted to look beyond political headlines and CNN’s cliches should plunge into this unique illustrated story. Let Marji be your trusted companion, follow her into the warmth of a Persian home and out along Tehran’s turbulent streets during those heady days of revolution. Persepolis opens a rare door to understanding of events that still haunt America, while shining a bright light on the personal humanity and humor so much alive in Iranian families today.”
— Terence Ward, author of Searching for Hassan

Blending the historical with the personal is not an easy task, to blend the individual with the universal is even more challenging. But Marjane Satrapi has succeeded brilliantly. This graphic novel is a reminder of the human spirit that fights oppression and death, it is a witness to something true and lasting which is more affective than hundreds of news broadcasts.
–Hanan al-Shaykh, author of Women of Sand and Myrhh

Top customer reviews

Zachary Littrell

Satrapi’s comic book is in some ways predictable — it is a classic coming of age story with some new trappings. But the new trappings are something I’ve never had to understand before: a young contemporary Iranian woman finding herself between ideologies, emotions, and the European and Iranian world. Her perspective is honest, straightforward, and revealing — I admire her courage to depict herself committing a very despicable act to save her bacon from Iranian watchdogs (and it also showed that, no matter the culture, making your grandmother disappointed in you is about the worst thing a human being can do).

I’ll admit that the latter half of the book, with Marjane grown up, doesn’t quite have the same fiery pop as the half surrounding her younger self, a bold pipsqueak learning the realities of war. But I’ll forgive Satrapi for the wonderful illustrations, and for taking the opportunity to spend a page of setup for a genital joke. It’s a good book that can be heartbreaking and bawdy at the same time.

A Passerby

One of the greatest graphic novels of all time, giving great emotion and depth through straightforward and simplistic artwork.

The overall length looks small, but it contains all of the stories from Satrapi’s autobiographical coming-of-age series published in France. Fans should know that the overall size of the book itself is smaller than I thought–I own the original French-language edition, which practically towers over this one. I would say this is smaller than an average graphic novel book, but Much bigger than a manga volume, but that’s why reading glasses were made!

Frank L. Greenagel IITop Contributor: Baseball

This is part 1 of a 2 part story. Ms. Satrapi’s masterpiece is one of my favorite works in all of comics. I read this when it came out and foisted it upon all of my comic reading friends. I gave a copy to a niece several years ago, and then recently bought another copy for another niece for her 11th birthday (I’ll hold off on part 2 for her until she is 14). Because I had given it to both nieces, my 76 year old mother decided to read it. She is a retired English teacher, and she was floored at how good the story was and how powerful the medium of comics are in telling a story. Persepolis ended up jumpstarting my mother’s interest in comics, and in the following weeks she read all three volumes of March, both volumes of Maus, the Story of My Tits, Chicken with Plums, and Two Brothers (this last one confused her, but she loved everything else).

So, there you have it. This floored my 11 year niece and my 76 year old mother. It’s brilliant and timeless.

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