Persepolis

The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

by Sarah Tan

11 November 2003

 

“I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious but as a family we were very modern and avant-garde. I was born with religion. At the age of six I was already sure I was the last prophet. This was few years before the revolution.”
— Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The story of a childhood

Growing up is an adventure. Age strengthens the need for personal opinions and values, and the desire to distinguish one’s self becomes greater. There are those who understand us, and those who exclude us. Many will choose to abide at a comfortable distance –- not close enough for confrontation and yet succeeding in meeting the demands of objectivity. Usually, the stances remain subtle, but when driven by significant political, religious and intellectual movements, the lines become stronger and the reactions, harsher.

cover art

Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi

The Story of a Childhood

(Pantheon Books)

Based on her own personal experience of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Marjane Satrapi introduces us to the effects of cultural change through the eyes of a child. The graphic novel entitled, Persepolis, is a political, historical, and extremely personal account of a girl’s growth into maturity. There are a great range of emotions disseminated in this novel. The reader is sidelined by murky melancholic feelings of familiarity and disdain. Such is a tale of life. What period in one’s life is filled with more wonder than that of childhood? Born in Iran and educated at the Lycee Francais, Satrapi is the granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors. She depicts herself in the book as an extremely precocious child of Marxist parents, who educate her on the evils of the regime and stage their own rebellion at home by drinking wine and supplying their daughter with posters of Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden. It is this Western culture at home that brings our character to question the happenings around her. Why is the veil compulsory? Why are our neighbours missing? Why is it wrong to wear a denim jacket and Nikes?

Persepolis is an account of demands made without understanding of repercussions. A child can only see so far into the future, and even then, the tendency is for years to be skipped and hardships, overlooked. Even when a child knows facts about Palestine and Fidel Castro, and reads comics entitled ‘dialectic materialism’, intellectualism does not succeed to quell the experience of life itself - you have to suffer to understand, but you have to learn the hard way to understand how it feels. Satrapi, herself, learns this lesson in her adolescence.

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.

Satrapi does an excellent job of defining various types of rebellion in our society. She explores the probable reasons, may they be fear or knowledge, and quite literally, illustrates the consequences. A teenager enacts rebellion by separating himself or herself from the general, and dives deeper into another extreme. Adults enact rebellion, by separating others from themselves.

One of Satrapi’s many strengths is how she shows us the prevalence of social censorship during unrest. It comes to a point where everyone is out there to protect themselves. To point the finger at others, and say, “No I am not like you, you are not like me.” How is a child supposed to understand the reasons and meaning of particular cultural symbols that define us? How does he or she deal with it when the clash that occurs when understanding sets in?

Persepolis is a very timely novel for today. As our society is continuingly putting up boundaries and constructing ideas of “ingroups and outgroups”, it is important to realize and understand the effects on the present. We may be fighting for the future, but are we looking ahead before looking to those beside us. Her book excludes no one and doesn’t place strong judgments on any particular group, though opinions are voiced. This is not a story of who was right, and who gained the most, or who suffered tragically. On the contrary, Persepolis is a novel of the importance of being aware of ourselves and understanding the consequences of change.

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