Book Review: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi’s graphic novel is also a memoir. It’s presented as a comic strip detailing her childhood and adolescence in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution and her older adolescent years in Vienna. In the introduction to the novel, Satrapi summarizes the history of Iran, noting that the influence of foreign countries, including Great Britain and the US, caused issues with the country. She notes also that Iran has of late been associated with the fundamentalism and terrorism we have all come to fear; however, she reminds us that the actions of the extreme few cannot speak for an entire nation. In part, this novel is to help tell the truth of her home nation.

The story she tells is real and gritty. Profanity is not prevalent, but it is used when needed, and it certainly has impact. She is honest in telling her reactions to the various political upheavals she experienced, as well as her personal struggles in Vienna. In some ways, it’s a coming-of-age tale. In the end of the novel, she is only in her early twenties and has just arrived at the realization of who she is.

I enjoyed the perspective she offered on life in Iran. In many ways, it reminded me of elements of the novel 1984. The people seem always to be in fear of the ever-present religious committees whose existence “insures” that everyone behaves in a moral manner. She noted insightfully that when women are preoccupied with how long their coverings are or whether bits of their hair is showing, they are unable to be concerned with their lack of personal or political freedom. I felt like I was reading about the idea of “facecrime” in 1984, in which people have to be so preoccupied about presenting the correct facial expression that they cannot follow a rebellious thought to fruition.

As a freedom lover, I appreciated Satrapi’s parents’ spirit of freedom and the fact that they used their resources to offer her as much freedom as they were able. Her accounts of the constant wars between Iraq, Iran, and others (especially those interested in oil) helped me affirm my beliefs that the best government is one with limited powers, as regimes all seem prone to abuse.

I admit I am not a connoisseur of graphic novels. I appreciated Satrapi’s honest and cartoonish style. I wish she had provided a few more panels that took true advantage of the artistic medium to communicate emotions and concepts.

The novel was a relatively fast read, but because of its contents, I would caution that it’s best for a mature high school audience or older. I prefer fiction to nonfiction, but the graphic novel format helped convince me to give it a try, and I appreciate the insight into a culture I usually only hear snippets about. I did recently learn that the novel has been made into a movie, and I plan to watch it. It will be interesting to see how the two compare–it looks like the film is in French (with subtitles, though the subtitles are white, against a black-and-white graphic novel format; we’ll see how rusty my French is!).