Persepolis (TheByteScene Review)

3.5 Marxist-Comic-Books out of 4

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian artist, woman, and thinker, and I must make it abundantly clear that the previous statement was not meant to discredit or demean her. Instead, the aforementioned statement must be used as a distinguishing factor for an individual such as herself, especially considering her history, and background. Her graphic novel series, Persepolis, details her life starting at the age of nine, until the age of 24 when she decides to leave Iran for France.

The details are quite intricate; Satrapi and her family were victims of almost every contemporary revolution experienced by Iran. The installation of the Shahs, the Western attempts to control Iranian oil, the vicious attacks by Saddam Hussein, and the subsequent intervention of America are all political backdrops that serve to only benefit the coming of age story within the pages of her black and white production. Interestingly enough, while the art style is rudimentary and basic, the writing reflects a far greater understanding and comprehension of a philosophically and politically unstable word that it would first let on.

Satrapi discusses her personal experiences in quick snippets for each time period and event, never spending too much time reflecting on any one topic, asking the reader to acknowledge and analyze the implications of each situation. A scene that comes to mind details Satrapi’s early experience with faith (from the first novel), where she considers becoming a prophet when she grows up. Quite some time is spent analyzing this plot point, and showcasing the inner war that occurs within Satrapi. The reader is forced to understand her inner conflict, and the difficulties she faces from those around her. It’s quickly revealed that her parents believe that she is isn’t ill or deluded, but merely expressing a simple childhood desire. Her school officials reprobate her for having foolish, impossible, and sacrilegious dreams. She remains unconvinced, and a stubborn determination manifests itself with nightly talks to a bearded figure in white (Satrapi’s childhood representation of God).

Satrapi ages, and as her character grows, so too does the turmoil within Iran; it’s at this point that her messianic dreams end. Her nightly chats with the Almighty conclude, and her beliefs shift toward politics, revolution, and the doctrine of philosophers and great thinkers. Its clear that Satrapi rejects the ideals placed upon her country by the so-called “Revolutionaries” that constantly make their precense known and it’s clear that she greatly disagrees with their principles. Her family’s defiance only further serves to accentuates the novels’ themes of freedom in a similar way; Satrapi, both as a child and adult, attends parties almost once a week; she drinks, and smokes (as do her parents) and she listens to Rock and Roll and Punk music as a sign of rebellion.

It’s interesting to behold Persepolis reveal the true side of political upheaval, the kind that cannot be gathered or determined by watching newsreels, the kind that can can only be identified by having lived through similar moments. Despite the fact that Satrapi’s family constantly lives in fear of persecution, they continue to act defiantly and maintain the lifestyles they held before the revolution. They throw parties, they listen to loud music, they protest in the streets, they challenge their governments.

Satrapi and her family yearns for freedom, but most importantly, they yearn for a country where their leaders do not condemn their people for wanting the basic rights that the Western world has come to very rarely appreciate. This comparison between Eastern and Western values isn’t truly made present until the conclusion of the first novel, and the introduction of the second (and final) one.

Sent to Vienna by her parents for a better education Satrapi finds friends in a small group of Anarchists. She learns that they are nothing more than teenagers desiring to rebel against the definitions of society and her tryst with her new-found friends ends as soon as it begins. Her experiences with her school friends make her wary, and her fears of abandoning her Eastern values in favour of more open Western ones become clear and she stays with a friend after being told to leave her Hostel by racist nuns. Her ability to voice such fears in short sentences and even briefer images is remarkable; once again, Satrapi doesn’t dwell on any individual experience and speeds past them like a parent would their child; not enough that it terrifies them, but just enough that it makes an impact.

In fact, it’s this speed of delivery that truly makes the novels worth reading; they contain so much detail and information, that even though finishing one book only took me an hour, I’m still analyzing the pages (and I finished reading the books two weeks ago). Whether it’s due to a personal fault, or a literary achievement is yet to be determined, though it can safely be said that Satrapi is more than capable of condensing strong philosophical ideas within a series of two or three pictures, and one or two succinct sentences.

Of course, Satrapi’s story is one that involves her coming of age, and even though she experiences several near death scenarios over the course of the entire first novel and half of the second, Satrapi doesn’t truly mature until the conclusion of her story. She returns to Iran after being stuck on Austrian streets for two months (having lived a homeless life), attends and graduates from a top Iranian Design College, gets married and subsequently divorced (three years later), and only achieves a state of maturity once she decides to travel to France. Her decision to finally leave Iran is interesting, as the departure mirrors that of the first novel, though with a single difference: it is her choice.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

  1. I haven’t read the books but the I saw the film a few years ago and thought it was absolutely stunning. This was a great read and has prompted me to re-watch the film again!

    • Quite frankly, I’m happy about two things: first that you enjoyed the article, and second that you enjoyed it enough to comment.
      Though, interestingly enough, I haven’t seen the film yet; it’s my goal to do so before the year ends. Thanks again for the comment, and the compliment!

  2. Wow! this is unique blog for reading for the visitors.

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