Friday, January 15, 2010

Reader Response: Persepolis

Title: Persepolis
Writer/Artist: Marjane Satrapi
Published: 2003

Now's a timely moment to pick this book up. The story of Persepolis details the events of the 1979 cultural revolution that overthrew the Shah and brought in the Islamic regime, but it bears a strong resemblence to current events. History, unfortunately, repeats itself. (Satrapi has recently made statements supporting the progressive movement in Iran.)

The story begins with little Marji, age 10. She's a precocious kid, the child of Marxist intellectuals, but a kid nonetheless: when veils become mandatory at school she and her schoolmates use theirs to play jump rope. She dreams of becoming a prophet and a great leader. Over the next four years, though, the world edges into Marji's life and dreams. It's haunting to watch the slow creep of repression: people assume that totalitarian regimes swoop in overnight with death squads, and there is plenty of violence in Persepolis. Friends of the family emerge from the shah's prisons only to suddenly disappear again, and discover that their torturers are the same. (I for one had no idea that many of the original revolutionaries were communists like Marji's parents.) But even more chilling, I got the impression of little inches, little creeping ways that their new government took control. It has ominous meanings for modern Iran (and the U.S.).

Despite the heavy subject matter, Satrapi manages to inject little moments of humor and humanity. When she and her father discuss the unfolding conflict with Iraq, 12-year-old Marji insists, "The Iraqis have always been our enemies. They want to invade us." Her father muses: "And worse, they drive like maniacs." Minor characters come and go - with Marji and her parents as the sole constants - but all are developed.

The illustrations are plain black and white, fairly simple, but perfectly suited to a story so dramatic and complicated. I occasionally had trouble telling characters apart, but not that often. An excellent, intelligent graphic novel. The last panel will stay with you for a long, long time, as it obviously stayed with Satrapi.

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