I don’t know a whole lot about Iran or Iranian politics, outside of what I picked up in school. That might be one reason I found Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels so enthralling. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return are parts of a memoir in two installments, detailing Satrapi’s life as an Iranian girl growing up both inside and outside fundamentalist Iran.
As a child, Marjane enjoyed freedoms. She went to a fairly liberal French school and did not have to wear the veil. Her parents were open and warmly indulgent. All this changed after the revolution, where instead of installing a legitimate republic, a fundamentalist Islamic regime took over. I think that details the most difficult part of the book. Marjane is given a taste of freedom as a child, and then it’s all rescinded. These books are equal parts horrifying and inspiring. Marjane was resistant as a teen to the restraints pressed upon her by Iranian traditionalists and religion. This caused her to be sent to Austria at age fourteen to complete her education. In the second book, she returns to Iran.
The memoir details her difficulties growing up, coming to terms with her self identity, her culture, and her Iranian-ness. Throughout the two books the reader is able to see what Marjane and her family suffered, as well as the oppression of her country. The amount of personal liberties that were revoked was upsetting to read about, especially in the context of feminism. Women were not allowed to show their hair (for fear it would arouse men) or show the shape of their bodies in public. Alcohol and parties were forbidden. From what I read, anything that might bring pleasure was forbidden. Western music and culture was outlawed. Men and women could not legally date. The only way to get to know someone (truly) was to marry. Otherwise, you weren’t really allowed to be alone together in public.
And yet, people resisted. Parties were thrown. Alcohol was consumed. Marjane, her friends, and her family were all rebellious to the regime; so much so that some lost their lives in their quest for liberation. But as many terrible scenes of war and oppression are matched by sweet and tender moments. Marjane’s parents and her grandmother are good, brave people that worked toward what they believed to be right. I think her family and its story is one of the best parts of the novels.
It’s sad story, but it is also inspirational and eye-opening. That area of the world is one I know less about: I have more of a vague notion than anything else. I also feel that it’s a sensitive subject that needs to be researched and treated with caution. I am mixed because I understand the desire for tradition and morality, but I also believe that individuality should be equally as important. It seems incredible to me that there are places in the world where this kind of fundamentalism so completely curbs the individual spirit, and yet, it is so. No matter how much of a stress there is on culture and tradition, I cannot accept that anyone should ever be so completely repressed and restrained, not for religion, not for anything.
The books are very well done and the art is beautiful. I am very much looking forward to watching the movie version (which has come highly recommended to me). If you ever have the opportunity, they are worth the read.
Until next time! xx