Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

“Yes you are, celestial light, you are my choice, my last and my best choice.”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and the toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane’s child’s-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible littler girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.”

Review: The book manages to be, in equal measure, humorous and gravely serious. For example, one plot point introduced early on is Satrapi’s juvenile approach to religion and God.  The quotes below demonstrate the range of emotions experienced by the young narrator (and, consequently, by the reader):

“It was funny to see how much Marx and God looked like each other. Though Marx’s hair was a bit curlier.”

As a young child, Satrapi dreamed of becoming a prophet when she grew up. But in the face of growing political turmoil and the devastation of war, she lost some of her childhood idealism while gaining commendable adult spunk and spirit.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

As one of only a handful of graphic novels I’ve ever read, I found that the black-and-white comic strip format of Persepolis lent some much-needed imagery to the story. Given that Iran and the Islamic Revolution are rarely discussed from a human perspective in the United States, I found that Satrapi’s story was rendered much more complete and understandable through illustration. This is definitely a book that I will read again, and made me want to learn more about Iranian life during those tumultuous years.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: In 2014, Persepolis was the second most commonly challenged book in America, according to a report by the American Library Association. Arguments found in official challenge/ban reports for this book claim that the book contains graphic language and images, is not suitable for the targeted age group, references gambling, uses offensive language, and is altogether politically, racially, and socially offensive. While several of these complaints are true to an extent (gambling is referenced and graphic situations do occur), Persepolis offers a much-needed first-person view into Iranian life during the Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq. The Westernized understanding of Iran is typically extremely skewed, and this misunderstanding and misinterpretation likely starts at a very young age. Persepolis, with its approachable graphic novel format and likable main character, is an easy read that actually provides the reader with a better context and understanding of Iranian history. If the text and images are graphic, then it is only because Iran has a graphic history. This is not a new discovery. The book counters these graphic situations with heartfelt, humorous, and endearing moments. Satrapi’s eloquent retelling of her childhood demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit in front of unimaginable loss and suffering. She is able to tell her story while also restoring humanity to a country that has been often been vilified.





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