*Persepolis — Recommended

Persepolis is, as subtitled, the story of author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood. It’s an experience few readers will be familiar with — although certain aspects of youth are universal, she grew up in Iran, the child of protesters with a grandfather who was once the son of the emperor. In only eight years, she experienced the Islamic Revolution, the overthrow of the Shah, and war with Iraq.

Her childish perspective, retold from a vantage point years removed, is fascinating to read. It allows her to be selfish in the face of tragedy, which emphasizes her humanity. She’s interested in her uncle’s stay in prison, where he was tortured, because she wants to brag about it to her friends. Her unusual viewpoint also serves as a filter, permitting terrible events to be told without destroying the reader through sympathy. They become stories instead of memories, even as she loses her dreams and her relatives to fundamentalists.

Persepolis cover
Persepolis
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Satrapi’s style is almost primitive, consisting of flat figures with simple shapes and features. It’s more sophisticated than a child’s creations, but it superficially resembles them, an approach that supports the presentation of memories from that period of life. Even with simplified graphic language, the expressions carry the subject, and the particular panel moments are especially well-chosen.

As a six-year-old, she was convinced she would be a prophet, speaking to God. Then she wanted to be a revolutionary, playing at what was a subject in the news without understanding the slogans she spouted. When her parents explain politics to her, their basic descriptions also assist the reader unfamiliar with the country’s history, but personal events teach more valuably than all her book knowledge. For example, she learns of the class system through the unhappy love story of the family’s maid.

The book starts right into a challenging subject, especially to Western readers: the veil that all women were told they must wear. The ten-year-old Satrapi complains of the rule not out of politics or social concerns, but because it’s too hot and other girls steal them to play with. Her young viewpoint thus nicely avoids falling into the trap of bilateral, all-or-nothing thinking. A girl’s logic isn’t predictable, and the deviation from the expected is entertaining, even sometimes funny. The historical approach is also comforting to the reader. No matter how disturbing the events described or alluded to, we know that Satrapi survived to tell her story. Her memoir is a must-read for a unique perspective on current events.

There is a sequel in which Satrapi returns to Iran after becoming homeless and drug addicted in Europe. Unlike the first book, it’s disjointed, tawdry, and unfocused. The story of her young adulthood doesn’t demonstrate the insight that made the first book so special; perhaps the events are still too close to her memory, or perhaps she’s more ashamed of them, since they’re mostly internally induced instead of imposed from outside.


16 Responses to “*Persepolis — Recommended”

  1. hcduvall Says:

    I remember reading the first one and liking it well enough to understand the praise it was getting. I remember picking up the second one and flipping through, reading through and being kind of disgusted at a scene I chanced upon that seemed to show that she kept childlike naivete through, eh, the entire second book. Figured it wasn’t for me.

  2. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] The author of Persepolis returns with Embroideries, a light collection of stories involving the sex lives of her female relatives. After a family meal, as the women clean up, they discuss the history of their loves and relationships. [...]

  3. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] In short, comic stores get better deals on graphic novels, especially those from traditional book publishers, without going through Diamond. Since many of those titles include the books that are revolutionizing the comic medium — titles like Persepolis, Mom’s Cancer, or just about all of Pantheon’s graphic novel catalog — Diamond is effectively segregating itself into an old-school superhero-and-adventure-pamphlet distributor. The best stores, those that want to carry the books that the mainstream audience is hearing about and seeking out, are driven elsewhere to get desirable stock, the titles that look to the future of comics instead of the past. [...]

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    [...] the long-running franchises unfriendly to new readers; your highly-praised art novels, like Persepolis or Blankets, with important things to say; your nostalgic reprints; and your [...]

  5. Cool Events Coming Up » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] community-wide Reading Together Series. The focus is on three autobiographical works: Persepolis, Fun Home, and Cuckoo. Paul sends along the following information: You don’t have to have [...]

  6. Comics Should Be Good! » “Heading for the edge of time, heading for the thrills of the golden age” Says:

    [...] Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane [...]

  7. Comics’ perfection Says:

    [...] Indeed, adult comic books are securing prime Waterstones square footage, and it’s not all Raymond Briggs. Last year, as Bryan Appleyard and Rachel Cooke noticed, new mainstream comics hit a seam of popular gold, as canny publishing houses combined the trend for modern tales of ordinary lives (highlighted when Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan won the Guardian First Book Award in 2001) with the marketing magic of a feminine twist. In 2007, the Sex and the City generation had Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s Cancer Vixen; their mothers, Posy Simmonds’ Hardy-inspired Tamara Drewe; their art-student sisters, the indie autobiographies Fun Home by Alison Bechdel or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. [...]

  8. What are your Favorite non-Japanese Graphic Novels? - MangaFox's Online Community Says:

    [...] animated movie, but the first graphic novel is the best of the bunch. You can read a review here: *Persepolis — Recommended Comics Worth Reading Maus: by Art Spiegelman. No list is complete without it. It’s about the author’s father’s [...]

  9. Bowler Hat Comics » Blog Archive » Have you read … PERSEPOLIS? Says:

    [...] attention toward the unique and thought-provoking themes and interactions that the book focuses on. Read a review or an interview with the author from Portland’s very own Powell’s [...]

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    [...] a Chinese Persepolis, a retelling of family folklore with a simple black-and-white graphic style. Yang is living with [...]

  11. Kabuki: The Alchemy Selected for Incoming First-Years at Northern Kentucky Univ. » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] shows that this isn’t the first time a graphic novel was chosen for a similar program — Persepolis was used at Ithaca College in 2008. However, while that is a relatively straightforward read, [...]

  12. The Sigh » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] pleased to see that Marjane Satrapi, best known for her autobiographical Persepolis, continues to write and draw stories beyond her own experience. (Too many cartoonists who put out [...]

  13. Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] familiar with the comics it’s being compared to. The marketing department keeps mentioning Persepolis. I understand why, I think — autobiographies (or those that seem like they could be) are the [...]

  14. Slush Pile: Back in the Day, One Model Nation, The 19XX, The Next Day, Hidden, Rise » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] of a number of graphic memoirs inspired by the success of Persepolis, but I appreciated the confident blacks on display in the solid art. Burton teaches art to [...]

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    [...] outfits. Readers of other popular graphic autobiographies, especially the extremely well-known Persepolis, will be comfortable with the approach. It’s deceptively simple, allowing readers to [...]

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