Persepolis by Majane Satrapi, Pantheon Books, 2004, ISBN: 978-0375714573
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a memoir of her growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Marji is a young, rebellious girl who wants to be a prophet when she grows up. She is angered by the social injustices she sees in Iran during the Shah’s reign that create rigid social classes. She also opposes the brutality with which the Shah puts down any dissent. When he is overthrown, both she and her family hope a more democratic Iran will emerge.
Unfortunately, what emerges is a fundamentalist Islamic government, which soon becomes more oppressive than the former regime. Marji must change schools, wear a veil, and hide her religious and political views from her teachers and neighbors. Family members and friends imprisoned by the Shah for their political views now face even greater dangers as many are tortured and killed. Living under the new totalitarian state becomes even worse when Iran declares war on Iraq and the country goes to war. As the oppression grows, Marji’s rebelliousness increases, putting her and her family at greater risk.
In a time when Iran is demonized in the U.S. press for its politics and nuclear ambitions, Persepolis is an important novel to read to gain an understanding of the people who have to live under an oppressive regime. U.S. readers will relate to Marji’s rebellious streak and how she defies authority at home and at school. She is a strong, independent young girl living in a tumultuous time when those qualities could get her killed.
Satrapi is brutally honest in depicting her life in Iran. There are moments here when she is misguided, naïve, and even cruel. Satrapi isn’t trying to present herself as a hero. In fact, living under a totalitarian regime makes heroism nearly impossible. Most people are doing the best they can to survive. We see this in stories of the families scouring supermarkets during food shortages, a near arrest for buying a cassette tape of American music, and the sudden disappearance of a family member or friend.
The visual style of the book is very unique. Told in strong black and white images, Satrapi’s drawings almost look like wood cuts in their simplicity. Even though her visual style is simple, her drawings are expressive and dramatic. Since this is told from Marji’s young perspective, the images are not always tied to reality. Before she loses her faith in religion, for example, Marji frequently has discussions with God about her life and her beliefs.
Marji is a rebellious, young girl with strong ideas about politics and religion. When her country is taken over religious extremists, she must figure out a way to stay true to her beliefs while not being arrested or killed. Take a look into the daily lives of Iranians in this compelling story of one girl’s experience growing up before and after the Islamic revolution.
Information about the author
From the author’s page on Amazon.com, we learn that “Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She grew up in Tehran, where she studied at the French school, before leaving for Vienna and Strasbourg to study decorative arts. She currently lives in Paris, where she is at work on the sequel to Persepolis. She is also the author of several children’s books.”
Graphic Novel – Non-Fiction, Memoir
History, Government, English, Art, Film
How is Marji’s behavior influenced by her surroundings?
Interpret the last panel of the book. What has happened to Marji’s family?
Does the end represent a victory or defeat for Marji?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
Besides a few panels that depict torture, there are not many issues to challenge this book. The book was named “Best Comix of the Year” by Time Magazine and was turned into a feature film.
Why did I include this title?
Like Joe Sacco’s Palestine, this is a powerful graphic novel that takes its readers into a time and place they may not know much about. Persepolis is not only a great story about a strong, young girl, it also helps readers gain a better understanding of a people often demonized in today’s news.