Thursday, February 9, 2012

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is only the second graphic novel I've picked up, and I fell in love with it. I read it all in one sitting; I laughed, I cried, and at moments, I was speechless with rage. The events in this book were not new to me, but I felt I was looking at them from a fresh perspective, in a way that was more immediate and personal.

The stark black and white drawings seemed deceptively simple at first glance, but they are actually richly detailed and expressive, and the images wedged themselves in my mind more sharply than words could. Is it possible that at my advanced age, I'm about to become a convert to graphic novels? Hmm...

Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir guides us through the events surrounding the Islamic Revolution in Iran, starting in 1979. She was about 10 years old when the Shah was overthrown, an event that, after years of harsh oppression, her family celebrated with other Iranians. Marjane Satrapi is of my generation, but I witnessed these events from a great distance, as if I saw them through the wrong end of a telescope. I remember our sadness and anger over the capture of American hostages in the U.S. Embassy -- fellow citizens wrenched from their families by shadowy evil-doers. I knew nothing about the fate of Iranians at that time, and I wouldn't understand until years later why they blamed the U.S. for the actions of their deposed Shah -- that simply wasn't part of our history curriculum. I hope children today are being educated through a wider lens.

Ten-year-old Marjane's parents are intellectual Marxists -- Marxists who drive a Cadillac and have a maid who takes her meals alone in the kitchen. Marjane is beginning to question these inconsistencies, but this is overshadowed by the turmoil all around her. Friends and relatives are escaping the clutches of the Shah's regime, only to be ensnared by the Islamic Revolution, and the war with Iraq begins.
This book has amazing depth. We are guided through this part of Iran's history and tutored in the politics and philosophy surrounding these events in a way that's simple but thought provoking. We're absorbing these things through the mind of a young girl who's struggling to understand what's happening in her world.

Dark images of violence and death blend seamlessly with the story of Marjane's coming of age, which includes scenes from the schoolyard and her relationship with God; it also offers glimpses of her adolescent rebellion and her love of Western music and clothes. With few words needing to be said, we intensely feel the love among her family members and friends. We experience the constant fear and paranoia, as the vise of the new regime closes around them. Yet there are moments that are surprisingly funny. All this combines to create a story that is heart-wrenching, humorous, and rich in food for thought.

As soon as I finished this, I immediately reserved Persepolis II and the movie adaptation of Persepolis at the library. I am hoping I can involve my family in reading the books or watching the film with me. I am salivating over the potential for discussion -- about contemporary history, our country's role in Mideast history, and life in a theocracy. Religious freedom is something we blessedly take for granted, though there are ripples in the U.S. urging us to replace secular law with "God's law." This book also offers potential for discussion about how childhood can be shaped by fear and violence and also by courage and love.

Read More Reviews: Eclectic/Eccentric; Caribousmom; Small World Reads; Good Books and Wine

Rating: 4.5

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

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