Thursday, February 9, 2012

Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

This autobiographical graphic novel picks up where Persepolis left off, bringing Marjane into young womanhood. As the novel opens, she is living in Austria. Wanting their beloved only child to leave Iran, where the vise of the Fundamentalist Muslim government continues to tighten, her parents arranged for her to live with an Austrian friend. The new family does not embrace her, however, and Marjane goes to live in a boarding house run by nuns, contemplating the irony of having escaped one staunchly religious environment only to end up in another.

Living and going to school in a Western society is a radically different experience for her. There is the language barrier -- Marjane doesn't speak German. And she is surrounded by teens who dabble in nihilistic philosophy, babbling about the meaninglessness of life without ever having experienced war or death firsthand. Marjane desperately wants to fit in with her Austrian peers and find her niche. But when she does, she feels she's betraying her Iranian identity, turning her back on on her war-torn homeland and the beloved relatives who died standing up for freedom. She struggles through isolation, academic failure, drug abuse, and first love. Then she eventually returns to Iran. There she is surrounded by loving relatives and friends, but she finds that her return to her own culture, after the freedom she enjoyed in Western Europe, is wrenching. And her conflicts about her identity don't fade away.

I loved this book just as much as Persepolis. Again a short book with simple, almost stark illustrations camouflages an incredibly rich story which weaves together Iranian history and politics, a bit of dry humor, and a painfully honest story of growing up and early adulthood. This author isn't afraid to reveal moments when she was cowardly or cruel, including one passage that actually kept me awake part of the night. The result is a fully developed, flesh and blood character I'll never forget.

As I was reading Persepolis II, I kept remembering Ana's post on literature being either a homecoming or a journey to a foreign land. If you haven't read that post and the discussion thread under it, I highly recommend it. :-) Ana quoted Alberto Manguel:
What is this homecoming? It can be argued that we perceive the world in one of two ways—as a foreign land or as home—and that our libraries reflect both these opposing views. As we wander among our books, picking at random a volume from the shelves and leafing through it, the pages either astound us by their difference from our own experience or comfort us with their similitude. The greed of Agamemnon or the meekness of Kim’s lama are to me utterly foreign; Alice’s bewilderment or Sinbad’s curiosity reflect again and again my own emotions. Every reader is either a pausing wanderer or a traveller returned.
Persepolis II is literally a tale of a journey to a foreign land and a homecoming. And for me it offered some of the best of both experiences -- reading Marjane's story, I felt like both a wanderer and a traveler returned. Many of her experiences were unfamiliar to me. I know little about Iranian culture. I have never lived through war or political oppression. I have spent my entire life in blissful ignorance of what it's like to be deprived of religious freedom or to lose over a million countrymen to war. And I've never been viewed as a "third world" person by Westerners.

At the same time many of the experiences she described were poignantly familiar: feeling adrift in adolescence and early adulthood, struggling to make a disastrous relationship work, and being horrified at what one has become and scrambling to begin anew. In this story, I saw reflections of myself at 14, 17, and 19 and I loved the author's honesty and humor in delving into her own youth.
There is something about this combined experience -- already knowing what it's like to travel a certain path, yet following it through a completely new landscape -- that is so enriching. Instead of feeling I'm reading about another life and another culture, I feel I'm there, and I absorb a bit of it into myself. I think that is one of the best things multicultural literature accomplishes.

Read More Reviews: Zen Leaf; Caribousmom; Book Nut

Rating: 4.5

5- Cherished Favorite4 - Keep in My Library3 - Good Read2 - Meh1 - Definitely Not
For Me

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