Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. Pantheon, 2003. 341p. Grades 6 and up. Graphic Novel/Memoir.
A coming of age memoir that takes place during the upheaval of the Islamic revolution, this graphic novel tells the story of Marjane Satrapi and her experiences growing up in the tumultuous culture of late twentieth century Iran. With its focus on both the personal and the political, Persepolis sheds light on the day-to-day lives of Iranians dealing with the realities of war as well as giving readers an intimate recollection of Satrapi’s unique situation.
Thoughts- Persepolis was, for me, a great read (even the second time around—I first read it several years ago). It was gripping, fast-paced, informative, and emotional all at the same time, and I was fascinated by not only the bildungsroman narrative but also the details of the Islamic revolution and life for Iranians in this time period. I thought the way Satrapi married the personal and the political—frequently making the point that the personal IS the political and vice versa—was very well-done and not at all didactic. You come away from the book with a better understanding as to how the revolutionary ideas Marji comes into contact with have shaped not just her beliefs but her entire life, and you see the impact her close-knit family has had on her.
I really liked the fact that this memoir was told in graphic novel form, primarily because it gives you constant visual reminders of the effects of the revolution, particularly the rules regarding head coverings and modesty for women and the part that those rules play in Marji’s own personal revolution. The depiction of all the girls at Marji’s school paying homage to the martyrs (p. 95) was especially poignant—the conformity and subjugation of self demanded by the new regime is made so clear through that illustration. I found Persepolis to be a read-alike for both of Art Spiegelman’s Maus graphic novels, not just in form but also in tone and, to some degree, content—both books deal with the issues of extremism, war, asserting one’s individuality, and reminiscing. To me, the narrative voice is also extremely similar, and I think readers of Spiegelman’s works would be comfortable with Satrapi as an illustrator and a writer.
Persepolis also seems, to me, like a great introduction to graphic novels for readers who are reluctant about this particular format. The story is nothing like a traditional comic, and the connections between the illustrations and the writing are very clear (unlike Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns which I found extremely difficult to navigate). I think this book could really change someone’s perceptions about what types of stories graphic novels can tell—the combination of the illustrations, story, and Marji’s voice is so powerful that even the biggest “graphic novels= comic books” proponent would be converted. Additionally, I think Persepolis has appeal for an extremely wide age range—anyone from preteens to adults would be interested in Satrapi’s story, mostly because it touches on the universals of adolescence and has the extra interest factor of being about a culture often viewed as closed and unknowable to outsiders.