Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is the graphic memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi tells her story with a simplistic intensity that drew me in right away.
Marji’s left-leaning parents allow her to be a freethinker, challenge her to question the Shah and the subsequent regime both of whom were pretty damn intent on imposing particular and restrictive ideologies upon the country. Marji questions her teachers, revels in stories of revolutionary heroes, and rocks out to Iron Maiden in her Michael Jackson jacket and forbidden blue jeans. In the midst of cultural repression and the subjugation of women, Marji is all punk and sneakers.
In this graphic novel, the relationship between the images and text is symbiotic, each necessary to the other for the full story to be told. The images do not merely visualize the text, they add to the text, and sometimes do so in a dramatic fashion. Juxtaposing words of pride in the heroic men with images of the dead really highlights the ideas of a child with the reality of a war. I was impressed by the starkness of both the words and the images.
As a teacher myself, I can’t help but latch onto the images of education in this graphic novel. In one scene, a teacher who had been telling her students that the Shah was put in power by God does a complete turnabout once said Shah has been displaced. Marji calls her out on this contradiction. Go Marji! Bad teacher!
On multiple occasions Marjane says exactly what is in the reader’s brain, and we can’t help but admire her hutzpah while simultaneously seeing the danger in her very visible and vocal rebellion.
I am ashamed to admit that even though my first reading of this graphic novel was years ago, I still haven’t read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. It’s honestly just a “so many books, so easy to forget to read that one you really meant to read” situation.
I was able, however, to watch the film Persepolis which encompasses both graphic memoirs. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it. Satrapi helped write and direct the film, and it is an authentic adaptation of her graphic novels. A wonderfully low-fi, two-dimensional, monochromatic visualization of the story, the film carries Satrapi’s simplistic intensity easily.