Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

           This book is very different than any book I have ever read before. Which to be honest, was a refreshing change from the YA fantasy and sci-fi I generally gravitate to. I haven't had much time to devote to this blog lately (ULTRA SAD FACE), or much time to devote to reading at my own leisure (RIVER OF TEARS), so this book is actually one that we studied in my IB English class... it feels like cheating, using it for both, but I hope you will forgive me. :) And plus, I felt it would be a nice addition to this archive of reviews we are slowing stockpiling on this here blog. A nice twist. I hope you agree.

           So the main differentiating factor between this book, and books I normally read, was that Persepolis is actually a graphic novel. And a damn good one at that. The author, Marjane Satrapi, is an AMAZING cartoonist, and her artwork brought so much to the depth and complexity of the story. It was all in black and white, so shadows and light gave each scene a very interesting feel. Even though she lacked colour, Satrapi still managed to succeed in translating the raw emotions that the characters were feeling. This book was literally bursting with reality, and truly alive. The almost amateur style of drawing also emphasized the naive narrator that Satrapi decided to use, which I will touch on in more detail in a few... 

           I am not Iranian, and I have never learned about Iran or it's revolutions in detail until this year, so this book's narrative was very informative and eye-opening for me. I learned a whole heck of a lot about the culture, and the strict society that Iranians lived through. It was very interesting to me. And seeing it all through the young eyes of protagonist Marji added a lot of depth and complexity to this otherwise hard to relate to tale. 

           Marji starts off as a young, naive 10 year old girl, whose sole ambition in life is to become the last prophet. She has a very deep connection with God, and sees him as a good friend that she can turn to at any point in her day to day life and just talk to. People around her don't quite understand this relationship, so she is seen as a bit of an outsider. Marji is different from all the other kids her age. But that soon changes. As Iran enters a state of war and rebellion, Marji grows and develops, physically, mentally and emotionally. She begins to question all the things she took for granted and blindly believed as a child. The incredibly real situation of the war influences the way she looks at life, and the choices that she makes. 

          Satrapi's choice of naive narrator for Persepolis really fits. I really do think that it was the best choice for this particular story. As an outsider to the Iranian revolution, I have no way to connect with the story itself. I have no idea what it would have been like! But having Marji as a young, humorous narrator, it becomes easier to relate and fully understand and appreciate what Satrapi has to say. Just having a little girl's eyes as the lens from which you view this world through, makes everything a bit lighter, and clearer in some respects. Children often don't think and analyze things as deeply as adults do, so gut feelings are depended upon more than logic. This fact prevents the story from becoming really heavy and hard to read, which a dark story like this could have easily become. 

          What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that Marjane Satrapi wrote Persepolis based on her own life experiences! To me, that brings in a whole new level of complexity and emotion to the story. Just thinking that a lot of the terrible events in this book actually occurred... It's really eye-opening stuff...but don't let that worry you! It's not all dark and miserable.  I really enjoyed this book. It's a quick and easy read, and it even has some laugh out loud moments! Humour, suspense, drama, and love... what else could you want from a book?! (There's also a fabulous movie adaptation of this book, which I loved!) 

PS: This is only the first half of the Persepolis story. There is a Persepolis 2!

The Good: Fantastic artwork, naive narrator brings humour, very informative. 
The Bad: Dark and disturbing at times. 
The Verdict: 4.5/5 

keep readin' it write!


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