This weekend I finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. First published in France in 2000 and 2001, this two part autobiographical tale of a young Iranian woman who grows up during a volatile time in Iran’s political development is a great starting point for trying to understand the struggle and confusion of many ordinary Iranian people during the time of the Islamic Revolution and subsequent establishing of the Islamic Republic. I should also mention, in case you’ve missed all the press about the movie version, first released in France and finally in the US in early 2008, that this is a graphic novel—not a customary autobiographical format, but extremely accessible here.
Satrapi’s parents sent her to Austria in 1983 to escape the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war and the increasing pressure of the Islamic regime. Her story telling manner is captivating as she describes the oddness of not fitting in, of coming from a totally different background from that of her classmates, and of being alone and independent in a foreign country at the age of 14. Satrapi must overcome assumptions that are made about her religion, her political background, and her sexual proclivities.
Satrapi, a wonderful graphic artist, lays out her poignant story in stark black and white, demanding the undivided attention of her reader as she portrays the most memorable and important events of her teenage and university years—telling off the nuns at her school, experimenting with drugs, living as a homeless person for several months, and feeling like a failure for wasting the incredible opportunity her parents gave her to make something of herself in Europe. All these episodes lay the groundwork for Satrapi to share her story, which is truly noteworthy.
I’m probably not the first to wish that Persepolis was required reading from high school on up to the highest ranking officials in the US and other world governments. If I sent Dubya a copy do you think he would flip through it? This is, after all, a picture book with words.