By Aleksandra Piotrow
Describing Persepolis as an autobiography of Marjane Satrapi’s life during the Islamic Revolution in comic strip form would be very simplistic. The book is so much more than just a memoir of a 10-year-old girl witnessing the overthrow of the Shah’s regime and life in Iran following the revolution.
This inspirational and timeless tale was originally written in French in 2000 by Marjanne Satrapi, an Iranian-born French author, whose achievements we should be remembering on the International Women’s Day. Exactly 10 years ago she became the first woman nominated for the Academy Award for Persepolis’s film adaptation and won the prestigious Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
The book was first published by French comics publisher L’Association with the British version, published by Jonathan Cape, following in 2004. It is divided into two parts. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, picturing her childhood in Tehran after the Islamic revolution and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, following her high school years in Vienna, return to Iran for college, her marriage and divorce, and then moving to France where she now lives.
“In life you’ll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty”
The novel starts with 10-year-old Marjane sitting on a school bench with a veil, not understanding the situation and seeing the revolution with a child’s mind. As she grows up, Marjane slowly starts understanding her world, politics, social classes and their divisions, and as she does so she becomes angrier and tougher. But as the author covers the main themes – politics, women’s freedom and religion – she also touches on more personal and human interest subjects. Integrity and finding your true self are, for example, some of the most important lessons she learns from her grandmother. She tells her: “In life you’ll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance… Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.”
On the surface it seems like the book is a ‘political message’ but it largely deals with personal and spiritual development. At times, just like Marjane, we don’t understand the meaning of moral messages conveyed in the comic strip, but at the end all the lessons covered in the book come to a close. The author says: “I finally understood what my grandmother meant. If I wasn’t comfortable with myself, I would never be comfortable.”
Persepolis is written in a simple, almost childish and innocent language, yet the book was created with one bold purpose which Marjane states in the prologue. “To show the world that an entire nation should not be judged by wrongdoings of a few extremists”. A message that is probably more relevant now than ever. Persepolis integrates historical and political events with other enduring themes of personal conflicts that accompany her, but equally any woman, as she grows up.
“To show the world that an entire nation should not be judged by wrongdoings of a few extremists”
It can be linked to our own struggle in times of political tensions and how they affect our life and psyche. For a big portion of the book Marjane is lost and is trying to make sense of the situation which, even though we live almost 40 years after the Islamic Revolution and 3500 miles away, could reflect the situation of a British girl or woman struggling with political uncertainty following Brexit.
The comic book format hits the jackpot. It undoubtedly reads differently than a casual book and some might be discouraged by the comic strip. But this original form is surprisingly captivating and effective. Marjane’s simple black and white style aims to represent childlike understanding of the world which makes the complex events easier to understand if this is not your area of expertise. Yet, it is never simplistic and it is impressive how she manages to convey a lot of emotions and profound meaning with unsophisticated drawings.
Without question, you must get used to reading a comic style text, pay attention to all the captions in the frames, text in speech balloons, but also look for importance in every single drawing. This form of storytelling immerses you in her world. The innocent narration is very convincing and it wouldn’t be as effective if written as a standard novel.
Even though this form may feel undemanding, after reading it you feel like plenty was asked of you. More importantly, by the end you may be surprised that her political aim to write the book, stated in prologue – to convince people the entire nation should not be judged by actions of a fraction – got through to you.
“Culture and education are the lethal weapons against all kinds of fundamentalism”
Instead of being just a pleasant-to-read comic strip, Persepolis is a lesson. Each chapter contains wisdoms whether that is political, psychological or moral. Marjane herself is obsessed with reading, through which she wants to educate herself and gain all possible knowledge. In one of the chapters she says: “Culture and education are the lethal weapons against all kinds of fundamentalism.”
Persepolis is a timeless account of a woman’s moral growth and development blended with political turmoil. It will not only appeal to a younger audience who are growing up and looking for their identity. Because it touches on serious political and ageless messages and is a collection of universal life lessons, it is a must-read for women of any age. You can buy Persepolis at Waterstones for £9.99