Mar 8, 2016

The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

I've been wanting to read this classic graphic memoir for ages, so having it pop up as my next book club read presented me the perfect opportunity. This book deserves all the attention it's gotten over the years. Satrapi grew up during the Iranian revolution - her country was liberal and educated until around her tenth birthday, whereupon religious fanatics took control of Iran and turned it into a fundamentalist Muslim dictatorship. Her family's history provides a solid reflection of the country itself, as her great-grandfather had been a prince under the Shah's rule. Her family was wealthy and well-educated, and Satrapi went to the French school in Tehran. Politically active, her parents took part in demonstrations against the Islamists until it proved too dangerous, and Satrapi was sent to Austria at fourteen to finish her schooling.

Satrapi's honesty about her philosophical growth is refreshing. When very young, she wanted to be a prophet and bring peace and happiness to humanity. When she got a little older, she discovered Marx and communism, embracing that ideology while acknowledging uncomfortably that this conflicted with her own family's obvious wealth. When her life in Austria exposes her to Western values, she realizes that as liberal as she may be in Iran, she would always be a third-worlder to Europeans. A disastrous break up sees Satrapi taking shelter back in Iran, where the political and religious climate only get worse and worse.

The drawing style is striking, almost like wood blocks, as the main color is black with white drawn in it rather than the more common opposite. "Persepolis" provides us with a much-needed inside voice from Iran and the revolution, a look at a situation we see as black and white but that has so much more gray than we realize. This is a fascinating, important book, and I'm very much looking forward to discussing it.

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