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Persepolis 1 & 2

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 26, 2006

Persepolis 1

So, a couple days ago on Steven Grant‘s Permanent Damage message board, a new poster stopped by to say, “If a million Iranians need to die to save 1 American, I’m all for that.” What sparked the comment was a debate on the big question these days: Is Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons program?

It’s not a debate I entirely want to get into here. But it is a worrying situation, especially when you see strange videos like these: One of a military parade of Iranian rockets attacking the letters “U.S.,” a Jewish star and a swastika (?); and this cartoon encouraging children to become suicide bombers.

Then, on the other hand, we have Marjane Satrapi‘s pair of memoirs. I just finished Persepolis 2 and then re-read the first book, which I got about a year and a half ago. Marjane doesn’t live in Iran anymore, but as far as I know from the memoirs and slight Internet research her parents still do. The same parents who taught their daughter to rebel and how to be a free thinker even while growing up under the Islamic revolution in their country.

But the Persepolis books aren’t overtly political, but the politics infect the personal during a time of such great upheaval for Iran. Marjane’s entire childhood is thrown upsidedown when she’s thrust from a relatively free lifestyle to one of religious oppression where she is forced to wear the veil in public and is no longer allowed to socialize with boys at school. And while we see a robust revolt against the Islamic revolution through Marjane’s parents’ activities and protesting, it’s a revolt that’s doomed to failure, especially when Saddam Hussein capitalizes on Iran’s turmoil and invades.

Persepolis 1 ends with Marjane’s first exile from her home country. Her parents send her to live with friends in Austria. However, when the story picks up again in Persepolis 2, we find Marjane living in a boarding school run by Catholic nuns. Life abroad isn’t easy for the young expat who doesn’t fare well living in another strict religious environment, which isn’t even her own religion. She is a total outcast from Austrian society who bounces around various homes and schools and makes friends with other “freaks,” i.e. nerds, punks and intellectuals.

Although Marjane does find a small space to fit in, she’s still unable to get on solid footing in Europe and eventually falls into tragic circumstances. After hitting rock bottom, she moves back home with her parents in Iran where she oddly feels as much an outsider as she was in Austria. She no longer has anything in common with her old girl friends with their old-fashioned, traditional ideas and who only seem concerned with their appearances and getting married. Marjane observes that living under such a strict, religiously authoritarian regime has drained the concept of revolt out of the population who are forced to constantly worry about their public appearance and behavior for fear of breaking the law. But at the same time, she eventually succumbs to the same fear and gets into a situation that totally compromises her morals.

After more false starts, Marjane does finally get her shit together studying art in Tehran and actually impresses the mullah who delivers her religious exam with her forthrightness and honesty. And at the end of her studies, she leaves her home country again to live in France.

When I read the message board post that I quoted at the top of this review, I almost wrote back hoping the poster would read the extremely moving, insightful Persepolis books so as not to casually condemn a million faceless people in the future. But I don’t even know if it would do any good, so I didn’t bother and decided to write about it here instead.

Buy Persepolis 1 and Persepolis 2 at Amazon.com!

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi, Iran, Graphic Novel, Comic Books