Book – The Complete Persepolis


© 2007 Pantheon
© 2007 Pantheon

Remember how I was totally behind on reading my feminist books for Our Shared Shelf?  Well, the struggle continues to be real, and I continue to fall behind on a daily basis.  This stunning graphic novel was the choice for…June.  Which yes, was a couple months ago.  But fact: I ordered the book nearly as soon as it was announced.  I did start reading it fairly quickly, and then life got in the way and I wasn’t lugging a physical book to London, and I didn’t have a lot of time to read it quickly, so it became something that I didn’t finish until mid-to-late July.  Two other books have been chosen since then.  I have one waiting for me to start it.  I’m in the library queue for the other.  Theoretically, I should have caught up on a lot of my reading since I was just on vacation (more on that later), but I didn’t.  I did, however, get to share this book with Nicole, who loved it also, and will likely chime in here in the comments.

So.  What is this book?  Well, first off it’s important to know that it’s a graphic novel.  It’s not a comic, because it’s longer, and it’s not quite a novel either because it’s a memoir, so … yeah.  That’s confusing, but it’s an illustrated retelling of the early life of Marjane Satrapi, who grew up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.  And this is where I get very real and admit that I have a little knowledge about the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but not a lot.  My knowledge of middle-eastern history are scant, and I can generally say, “Didn’t XYZ happen generally about this time?” and I am probably right, but I can’t give details.  I can’t talk about the causes and effects, and repercussions.  I can’t discuss political leaders really at all, and I have so very little context about what life was like under regimes, or what kind of people were affected by event A.

So that’s part of why I love a good memoir, and this one is fascinating.  Little Marjane is innocent to the horrors of the world for such a short time, but she then becomes this rebel, no-shit-taking girl who is also sensitive and curious and wants to find her way in the world.  That means exploring what it means to be a woman during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and it means seeing what the wider world is like by going to school in Vienna and being an outsider there.  It means experiencing loneliness, love, anger, ambition and ambivalence.  It means taking chances and taking risks, and knowing that sometimes you have to give things up in order to achieve more than you wanted.

I loved this book a lot.  Not only does it have stunning art in a sort of graphic/block-print style, but I feel now like I know more about what life was like in Iran in the late 70s and 80s.  I feel like I have a better understanding of what international students like Marjane go through when they attend school in foreign countries.  I feel like it must be difficult to read books about people living their lives in non-American cultures, and NOT come out with a slightly shifted perspective on the world that makes you more sympathetic and understanding to the lives of those who may not look like you.

I’m going to keep reading the books on Our Shared Shelf.  I may be slipping behind on reading them when they’re meant to be read, but I feel like I’m very slowly becoming more aware of all the different ways to be a woman in the world, and how important it is to look beyond myself, and beyond my own borders.

Details: The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, first published in 2000 by L’Association.

2 Comment

  1. Nicole says: Reply

    Haha how did you know I would comment 😉

    I’m really glad you had this book, and that I was able to borrow it from you over vacation. Due to it’s graphic format, it made for an easy and quick read-perfect for vacation.
    What I particularly appreciated about the narrative was that she somehow struck this amazing balance with how she presented both the information that was coming to her about what was going on in her country, her government, her friends’ lives, and her own family, and how that information was processed by her child’s mind. If this book was a history lesson, it was an incidental one. The author wasn’t setting out to say “Let me tell you what happened during the Islamic Revolution and who the bad guys were and who the good guys were and how it all affected me as a kid.” A lot of books, historic and fictional, kind of set the reader up from the beginning to feel certain ways about certain things and certain people, and I don’t think she did that in Persepolis. The way the little girl “character” intercepted information, processed it, and how it all shaped her as she grew up seemed really organic and real. Sometimes, when authors tell their memoirs, the privilege of retrospection can give the events and the development of “self” more order than there really is in life, I think. A memoir’s duty, in a way, is to draw straight lines between events in a person’s life and who they become. But reality is never that neat or straight, and it certainly doesn’t feel like that when you’re going through it. So what was unique for me about this book was how it DIDN’T do that, really, even though it is a memoir of a sort. As a very little girl, she is encountering snippets of conversation from adults, instruction from her teachers, clips from the news, and official propaganda, and it all gets mixed around and comes out as this weird understanding of the world that only a child could have. And then she grows up and adopts positions and attitudes that are really more about being a teenager and having a teenager’s brain than it is about post-Revolution Iran. For instance, the friend groups and fashions she falls into. She tells the story of other people-real players in the Revolution; people who could have their own memoirs-as they intersect and impact HER life, and I’m having a hard time describing what I’m trying to say here, but it’s the closest thing to how one actually experiences the world that I have ever read; there is absolutely no omniscient narrative here, and probably the closest one can get to crawling out of your own brain and into another brain that is possible. In the end, there was no value lesson, no morality tale, no history lesson. I don’t think I know more about the causes/effects/players of the Islamic Revolution now than I did before reading the book. This book wasn’t about that. It completely blurred the lines between life events, innate personality, and parental influence and starkly showed how growing up in general, and especially growing up during the Islamic Revolution is, well, a unique and weird process.

    1. maggie says: Reply

      Oh, I don’t think it was meant to be a history lesson, and if I implied that, I miswrote. It’s definitely more of life in the context of a tumultuous time in history. The same way that people LOVE their WWII books and memoirs, it’s amazing to see the little things that are remembered and integral to a life from a historical event/time period, and which parts didn’t have a direct impact.

      But yes – the weirdness of growing up, and how what she processed from the time she grew up in affected her personal journey was really amazing.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.