Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Date completed: 12/1/11 (Counted as #2 because I started it second, even though I finished it first)
Where I found it: On a reshelving cart at the library*
Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel (graphic autobiography?) of a young woman growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution and then the war with Iraq. I had seen the movie a few years ago, so the book caught my eye as a good candidate for my Iran book. It you’ve seen the movie, Persepolis actually only covers the first half of the movie where Marjane is in Iran. The rest of the story is written in Persepolis 2 which I plan to read at some point.
For a comic book about childhood, Persepolis is remarkably dark. This contrast is quite powerful as anecdotes of childhood are interwoven with instances of deaths, torture and oppression. The Satrapi family is quite politically active and oppose the new government so Marjane is exposed to a lot of what is going on in Iran during those years. Her grandfather had worked for the Shah but then fell into disfavor and was later imprisoned and tortured. Her parents attend protests and friends and relatives who have been imprisoned also pass through the household. Marjane has to reconcile the official information from school and television with what she learns from her relatives. The book does a good job of expressing the confusion that she experiences. Another theme of the book is is the issue of class. Marjane is aware that her family has more money than most people- they drive a Cadillac and employ a maid- and she is not not sure how to feel about this situation.
One thing that I found striking was the willingness of Marjane’s family to risk of breaking the law. I personally am a strongly (many would say excessively) rule-abiding person. While I won’t say that I’ve never jaywalked, in general even if a rule seems silly to me I will follow it. I do, however, think that civil disobedience has an important role to play in protesting unjust laws. So it made sense to me when the family went to protests or women refused to wear head coverings. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do it myself, but I admired their actions. What I had a harder time understanding was the risks Marjane and her parents would take to get a banned music cassette or to keep alcohol in the house. Were these things really worth the possible consequences when the family was already under suspicion? In my head, I kept telling the characters “No, don’t do it!”. However, I don’t have the experience of living under a government that tries to control so many aspects of personal behavior. Maybe these small rebellions were more necessary than they seemed. Maybe it is important to rebel against even the trivial rules as a refusal to acknowledge the power of the government over your life. Or maybe little things which improve quality of life are more important than they seem to an outsider. (Especially an excessively law-abiding one).
*One of my favorite things about my local public library is that their reshelving carts sit out in a publicly accessible area. Since these shelves are a selection of the books that other people have recently decided to pick up and check out, this a great way to come across interesting books that I might otherwise not have noticed. I think the library does this due to a lack of storage space rather than as a benefit to their readers, but I wish all libraries would have a system like this!