There are four volumes in the Persepolis graphic novel series and Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood contains volumes one and two. Originally published in France, this is the memoir of an Iranian girl growing up amid the Iranian (Islamic) Revolution and the changes it brought to her life. Marjane Satrapi’s illustrations have been shown around the world, often appearing in The New Yorker and The New York Times. Pantheon | Paperback | 2004 | 160 pp
Marji is a normal young girl growing up in Tehran, Iran during the ’70s and ’80s. She doesn’t understand much about politics or why her parents are protesting almost every day against the current regime which supports a caste system. When the revolution successfully kicks out the shah, the expected democracy is quickly overthrown by a theocracy. The Islamists were able to take control through rigged elections and violent suppression of opposition, which is not what her parents and thousands of other protesters had intended nor wanted.
Marji had been attending a French non-religious school. Quite suddenly, she was forced to wear a veil and was separated from her male classmates.
Persepolis follows Marji through adolescence while a political inferno raged around her family and country, and through war with neighboring Iraq. The danger for Marji wasn’t just from Saddam’s bombs falling from overhead, but from the strict Islamist regime in her own country, and the neighbors who were quick to point fingers. And then there were her parents – against the theocracy and willing to take a stand.
Outside her home Marji was forced to look the part with her solemn veil, just to survive. She had to hide that rebellious teen spirit who loved western culture, Iron Maiden, and punk clothes. As with any teen, a rebellious heart is difficult to suppress.
This is another book that has recently been the subject of proposed school book bans. Although there are no graphic scenes aside from a young girl’s overactive imagination, the very nonfiction account of what was happening to young girls accused of whatever offended the draconian Islamists is an accurate portrayal, and briefly defined. When Marji’s mother feared for her daughter’s life, she explains to Marji how a young girl is executed. Because a virgin is not allowed to be executed according to Sharia, that girl, if found guilty, is forcibly married, raped, and then executed. Although this is nonfiction, this obscene truth is why some parents and teachers have objected to this book.
Yes, it is scary. Yes, it is terrifying. But that is no reason to hide the truth, especially in historical context, to any young mind.
This book is brilliant for young adults because it takes difficult subject matter, a foreign culture, and an important time period with a major historical event, and provides an easy way for any young person to relate – through the characterization of Marji. She could be any kid growing up in a suburbs of L.A. or N.Y.C. or Boston. And in that manner, kids are going to see Iran and its people in a completely different light.
The story reminded me of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini where the Taliban took control after Russia’s occupation was usurped. During Russia’s rule through communism, the Afghan people had a good life – equal education, freedom, and prosperity. Once the Taliban took over, the country fell into poverty while women were forced out of their jobs and into burqas.
It is stories like Marji’s that people, especially the young, need to read. An A+ graphic novel. I can’t wait to get the second set.