Persepolis is the story of author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood. It’s an experience few readers will be familiar with; although certain aspects of youth are universal, she grew up in Iran, the child of protesters with a grandfather who was once the son of the emperor.
Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Persepolis is a bittersweet memoir about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq.
“Unfortunately, it happened in a country where people were very traditional, and other countries only saw the religious fanatics who made their response public.” In her graphic novel, Satrapi shows readers that these images do not make up the whole story about Iran.
An illustrator, Satrapi chose to tell her story in a graphic novel.
“Images are a way of writing. We learn about the world through images all the time. In the cinema we do it, but to make a film you need sponsors and money and 10,000 people to work with you. With a graphic novel, all you need is yourself and your editor.”
Persepolis paints a portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Satrapi’s child’s-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own family.
The book starts right into a challenging subject, especially to Western readers: the veil that all women were told they must wear. The ten-year-old Satrapi complains of the rule not out of politics or social concerns, but because it’s too hot and other girls steal them to play with. The girl’s logic isn’t predictable, and the deviation from the expected can be amusing. She’s interested in her uncle’s stay in prison, where he was tortured, because she wants to brag about it to her friends. Events become stories instead of memories, even as she loses her dreams and her relatives to fundamentalists.
Her follow-up volume, Persepolis 2, won the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Scenario in Angoulême, France, for its script and in Vitoria, Spain, for its commitment against totalitarianism.
Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She grew up in Tehran, where she studied at the Lycée Français before leaving for Vienna and then going to Strasbourg to study illustration. She currently lives in Paris, where her illustrations appear regularly in newspapers and magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books.
An animated film version of the book won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007.