Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novel depicting the author’s autobiographical narrative. The author speaks about her upbringing in Iran while she grew up in 1979. During this revolution, the government was overthrown. After this, theocracy came into being in Iran, and a war started with Iraq. Satrapi’s focus is on her life from when she was eight to fourteen, covering this period with the historical concepts in the background. She starts with a strong idea; a school photo, which shows several girls in their veils. This photograph generally these girls will take away these holy veils to play breaks (Book Review). The author is finally able to leave the mess of the war, with her parents seeing her off at an airport so that she can head to the safety of a school in Austria. However, the war did affect her for the rest of her life, and through adulthood, we see the scars that are attributed to this experience. From the beginning to the end of her involvement in Iran, the author’s young life is veiled with the feelings of the oppressive, war-like life in Iran.
(Book Review). It becomes quite apparent that like her own parents, many of the young children of this time were encouraged to leave the country to find safety. The country was in such an upheaval that even young, promising children of the next generation were not safe. Therefore, this had a profound effect on the author’s life, and this effect would change her life forever. Growing up with a war at her doorstep, the author had to consider on a day to day basis how to survive and had to also worry about her parents’ survival. The emotional descriptions present in the book leave readers with a very strong sense of emotion in themselves and reveal to the reader the struggles the Iranian people have undergone to demonstrate their desire to have an active voice in their country.
The emotions are continually conjured up in the readers as the novel progresses. The book is presented in a very simple way, as small details are introduced to reflect on powerful concepts of emotion in the story. By doing this, Satrapi shows how much the little things can matter, and how the slightest action can demonstrate a type of emotion (Book Review). The emotions present in all the characters, as they are all affected by the war going on in the background, is very obvious throughout the book. However, it takes some skill to be able to learn to read these small, simple, signs; as for many of us troubled western countries, we do not always see this kind of response in the individuals that surround us.
Satrapi herself, as a young child during this time, often depicts the emotions of astonishment and confusion.
She is chronically bewildered at having to wear a veil at only ten years old. She also becomes confused upon seeing the picture with her Uncle’s former wife’s head defamed (Book Review). She is further complicated by the notions of justice and God (Book Review). Because the war was going on for so long in the background of her life, it must have seemed to her that God was unjust, and this would have greatly confused a young girl. She has to deal with the change all around her demonstrated in politics, and it was noticeably difficult for a young girl to understand the reasons and necessities for this type of turmoil. As a child, she begins to realize that one needs to suffer to comprehend the full meaning of what was going on:
In life, you’ll meet a lot of jerks. Tell yourself, if they hurt you, it’s because they’re stupid. That helps you not to respond to your cruelty. And nothing is worse than resentment and revenge. . . be true to yourself, always keeping your dignity.
She also has to deal with the way both adults and children act and respond to the concepts of the war. She wants those close to her to be heroes and to do the right thing; but at the same time, she doesn’t have a full understanding of what it would mean to be a hero in this context (Book Review). This confusion stems from her youth, obviously, but also from the different cues she is presented around her at all times, because of the overall complexity of the war. There is even more confusion present in her childhood as she strives to understand the government’s censorship issues. Religion and government have always been important concepts in the lives of Iranian citizens, and the two have often presented them with conflicting ideals.
The Iranian citizens want their voices to be heard in both of these issues, and this is a reason for them actively seeking to revolt. Like many oppressed people have throughout history, if they feel they are not being heard, they will find a way to make themselves heard. Through this depiction, the author presents the Iranian people as strong people, willing to sacrifice their lives for their ideals.
While readers like myself do experience a lot of pity for the author, there are still some other items to consider when reading this book. Satrapi, however, is at least given choices and options, and this is probably why she states that her book is not necessarily the typical portrait of an Iranian. This was not true for many people living in Iran during this time. She comes to form a better to do family, so this has given her more capabilities to escape than other people might possess(Book Review). This does not mean that she did not suffer as a child; she most certainly did. She did, for instance, suffer the loss of friends and family to the struggles going on in Iran at the time. Also, she does have to leave her family at a very young age, another thing that must have been frightening for such a young girl. However, she did have the money and the opportunity to escape and this, in itself, reflects on her status. Not many people had this option in Iran.
Therefore, it can be assumed that things were probably even worse for the majority of the people, and this is a frightening thing to imagine when dealing with this very tragic war.
Regardless, while she did have the opportunity to leave, she was always affected and scarred by the war.
Again, these reflections do cause a deep sympathy in the reader as a response. However, there is a slight feeling of hope for the narrator because she does have a way out, and this makes her much luckier in comparison to some of the other people suffering from the war. The reader begins to wonder about those people who come from the poorer classes, which are the majority of the people in Iran. What was their end? How much did they suffer? Overall, a great deal of pity is enacted in readers of this story because of the horrible situations, but a great deal of respect is also felt. The Iranians emerge as very brave people, and their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs causes the reader to feel a great deal of respect for the Iranian people.
As a result of the emotions triggered in the reader and the real history of the book itself, it has drawn comparisons to other novels with similar concepts. This book has often been compared to a work called Maus, written by Art Spiegelman(Book Review). Spiegelman’s book is actually about the Holocaust viewed through his own father’s interaction with it(Book Review). However, Satrapi, on the other hand, is coming of age and maturing in her novel, in the background of the revolutions(Book Review). This child, we observe, is forced to grow up quickly and to realize and understand things that many young children do not have to deal with. This forced her to make more adult decisions and have more adult considerations, which can be very difficult for a young child mixed up with the war. Furthermore, the implications of losing friends and family were also very difficult for a child to understand. The loss was a very big part of the war and a frightening aspect for a young child.
Therefore, the confusion and fright are apparent throughout the book in the author’s eyes. Satrapi changes drastically in the novel, mainly because she is forced to change. She progresses from a type of happy middle-class blindness into righteous indignation, and finally to an adult ambivalence. At the end of the book, it seems as if her personality has come full circle and adapted to the issues at hand. The terrible things that the war has brought into her life have become such an everyday part of her life that she is no longer deeply shocked or affected by what the war brings. Knowing that this affected the child in such a profound way creates even more sympathy in the reader. It also forces the reader to consider how many other Iranian children were harmed in similar ways.
Satrapi does bring a very new perspective on the Iranian struggle. She allows us to see this historical time through the eyes of a young child, and she does allow the reader to gain a profound amount of respect for the Iranian people involved in the struggle. This will enable us to start with her, experiencing a feeling of innocence, and understanding how the transition to adulthood with the war in the background would affect her personality forever. There can be no more innocence in a child when so caught up in the war. As mentioned previously, this movement also caused the author to grow up rather quickly and adapt to an adult world because she struggled to understand the issues that were present in the war.
Furthermore, through the agonizing losses she was forced to experience, she realized very quickly that she would have to grow up to develop the resources to deal with the issues going on all around her. While we have a very detailed account from Satrapi, however, it does not show a complete picture. We don’t see, for example, how the poorer classes dealt with this issue, and they were the majority during that time. It would have been nice to see a more detailed analysis with a wider perspective, to understand how issues were handled throughout the population.
We can only imagine this, but this is again why the author admits that this isn’t the full, general picture of Iran—it is only her experience.
- Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. 22 June 2009. http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-persepolis-by-marjane-satrapi/page-2/