Persepolis (Satrapi)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Marjane Satrapi, 2003
Knopf Doubleday
160 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375714573


Summary
Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of 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. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable 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. Marjane'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 extraordinary family.

Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a stunning reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, through laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—November 22, 1969
Where—Rasht, Iran
Rasied—Tehran, Iran
Education—M.A., Tehran Islamic Azad University
Awards—Angloueme Coup de Couer for Persepolis 1 & 2;
   Cinema for Peace, Most Valuable Movie of the Year;
   Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize
Currently—lives in Paris, France


Satrapi grew up in Tehran in a family which was involved with the communist and socialist movements in Iran, prior to the Iranian Revolution. She attended the Lycée Français there and witnessed, as a child, the growing suppression of civil liberties and the everyday-life consequences of Iranian politics, including the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ruhollah Khomeini, and the first years of the Iran-Iraq war.

Satrapi is a great-granddaughter of Nasser al-Din Shah, Shah of Persia from 1848 until 1896. However, Satrapi points out that "the kings of the Qajar Turkish dynasty...had hundreds of wives. They made thousands of kids. If you multiply these kids by generation you have, I don't know, ten to fifteen thousand princes and princesses. There's nothing extremely special about that."

In 1983, at the age of 14, Satrapi was sent to Vienna, Austria, by her parents in order to flee the Iranian regime. According to her autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis, she lived there during her high school years, returning to Iran for college. At college, she met a man named Reza, whom she married at age 21 and divorced roughly three years later.

She then studied Visual Communication, eventually obtaining a Master's Degree in Visual Communication from the School of Fine Arts in Tehran Islamic Azad University. Satrapi then moved to Strasbourg, France. She currently lives in Paris, where she works as an illustrator and an author of children's books. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
Satrapi's drawing style is bold and vivid. She paints a thick inky black-on-white, in a faux-naif pastiche of East and West. Persepolis deploys all the paranoid Expressionism latent in the comic strip's juxtapositions of scale—the child dwarfed by looming parents, would-be rescuers dwarfed by giant policemen guarding the locked doors to a movie theater that's been set on fire—but when Satrapi depicts a schoolyard brawl, it's straight from Persian miniature. Persepolis was first published to enormous success in Satrapi's adopted France, where adult comic books are a long-favored form. The English edition comes with an introduction expressing the author's desire to show Americans that Iran is not only a country of fanatics and terrorists. The book could hardly have come at a better moment.
Fernanda Eberstadt - New York Times Book Review


The simple lines and shapes of Satrapi's drawings lend poignancy to the story. The fact that she is able to portray such a vast range of emotions with a few simple strokes of a pen is impressive. That she does this consistently for 153 pages is a mighty achievement.
Christopher Theokas - USA Today


Marjane Satrapi was nine years old when the Islamic Revolution reintroduced a religious state in Iran. Her life changed dramatically under the new regime. It became obligatory for her to wear the veil, her previously co-ed school was divided into separate schools for boys and girls, and fear began to rule her world whenever she was outside of her home. The only child of outspoken revolutionaries, Marjane found it nearly impossible to comply with the demands that were made by the new government. Her resultant disobedient and eventual violent behavior put her family in danger, and she was sent to live in Europe at the age of 14. Persepolis is an absolutely breathtaking memoir. The b/w illustrations are simple but they eloquently convey Marjane's perceptions and memories of her childhood in Iran. Satrapi's writing style is straightforward, and the story is told in a way that is easily accessible. Although terrorism and war form the basis of Marjane's childhood experience, we learn through her story that the actions of a few extremists do not reflect the attitude of an entire nation. This is presented in a nontraditional format (similar to Maus, by Art Spiegelman); however, its curricular advantages should not be overlooked. It gives the people of Iran a face and a voice through their spokeswoman, Marjane Satrapi, and the humanization of a people who often appear far away and different is a benefit not to be ignored. (An ALA Best Book for Young Adults.) Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults.
Heather Lisowski - KLIATT


Satrapi's cursive, geometrical drawing style, reminiscent of the great children's author-artist Wanda Gag's, eloquently conveys her ingenuousness and fervor as a child. —Ray Olson
Booklist   


Satrapi's autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi's radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over. Satrapi's art is minimal and stark yet often charming and humorous as it depicts the madness around her. She idolizes those who were imprisoned by the Shah, fascinated by their tales of torture, and bonds with her Uncle Anoosh, only to see the new regime imprison and eventually kill him. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors' homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi's parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. "I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?" he asks his wife. Iron Maiden, Nikes and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi's rebellious streak puts her in danger, as even educated women are threatened with beatings for improper attire. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality. Skillfully presenting a child's view of war and her own shifting ideals, she also shows quotidian life in Tehran and her family's pride and love for their country despite the tumultuous times. Powerfully understated, this work joins other memoirs—Spiegelman's Maus and Sacco's Safe Area Goradze—that use comics to make the unthinkable familiar.
Publishers Weekly


Marji tells of her life in Iran from the age of 10, when the Islamic revolution of 1979 reintroduced a religious state, through the age of 14 when the Iran-Iraq war forced her parents to send her to Europe for safety. This story, told in graphic format with simple, but expressive, black-and-white illustrations, combines the normal rebelliousness of an intelligent adolescent with the horrors of war and totalitarianism. Marji's parents, especially her freethinking mother, modeled a strong belief in freedom and equality, while her French education gave her a strong faith in God. Her Marxist-inclined family initially favored the overthrow of the Shah, but soon realized that the new regime was more restrictive and unfair than the last. The girl's independence, which made her parents both proud and fearful, caused them to send her to Austria. With bold lines and deceptively uncomplicated scenes, Satrapi conveys her story. From it, teens will learn much of the history of this important area and will identify with young Marji and her friends. This is a graphic novel of immense power and importance for Westerners of all ages. It will speak to the same audience as Art Spiegelman's Maus (1993). —Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. The New York Times hails Persepolis as “the latest and one of the most delectable examples of a booming postmodern genre: autobiography by comic book.” Why do you think this genre is so popular? Why did Satrapi chose this format in which to tell her story? What does the visual aspect add that a conventional memoir lacks? Have you read other graphic memoirs, such as Maus by Art Spiegelman or Joe Sacco’s Palestine? How is Persepolis different and/or similar to those? How does Persepolis compare to other comic books? Would you call this a comic book, or does it transcend this and other categories? Where would you place this book in a bookstore? With memoirs, comic books, current events?

2. Written as a memoir, is Persepolis more powerful than if Satrapi had fictionalized the story? Why or why not? Compare this book to other memoirs you have read. What are the benefits and drawbacks of memoirs?

3. In an Associated Press interview, Satrapi said, “The only thing I hope is that people will read my book and see that this abstract thing, this Axis of Evil, is made up of individuals with lives and hopes.” And in her introduction to Persepolis, she explains that she wrote this book to show that Iran is not only a country of “fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.” How does Satrapi go about challenging this myth? How does Persepolis dispel or confirm your views on Iran? In what ways does reading this book deepen your understanding and knowledge of Iran, and the current situation in Iraq?

4. How is Persepolis organized and structured? What has Satrapi chosen to emphasize in her childhood? How is the passage of time presented? Describe Satrapi’s drawings. How do the drawings add to the narrative of the story?

5. Describe the writer’s voice. Is it appealing? Which aspects of Marji’s character do you identify with or like the most, the least? Did your reaction to the little girl affect your reading experience?

6. How did the revolution exert power and influence over so many people, including many educated and middle class people like Satrapi’s parents? Why did so many people leave after the revolution? Why do you think Marji’s parents send her off to Austria while they stay in Tehran? Why don’t they leave/escape as well?

7. “Every situation has an opportunity for laughs.” (p. 97) Give some examples of how the ordinary citizens of Iran enjoyed life despite the oppressive regime. What made you laugh? How does Satrapi add comic relief? How are these scenes relevant to the story as a whole?

8. What kinds of captivity and freedom does the author explore in Persepolis? What stifles or prevents people from being completely free? How do they circumvent and defy the rules imposed on them and attempt to live ordinary lives despite revolution and war? Give some examples of their small acts of rebellion.

9. “In spite of everything, kids were trying to look hip, even under risk of arrest.” (p. 112) How did they do this? What do you think you would have done had you been a child in this environment? What acts of rebellion did you do as a teen? In way ways is Satrapi just a normal kid?

10. What does Satrapi say regarding disparity between the classes before and after the Iranian Revolution? Discuss some examples that Marji witnesses and contemplates.

11. At the core of the book is Marji’s family. What is this family like? What is important to Marji’s parents? What environment do they create for their daughter despite living under an oppressive regime and through a brutal, prolonged war? From where do they get their strength?

12. What is the role of women in the story? Compare and contrast the various women: Marji, her mother, her grandmother, her school teachers, the maid, the neighbors, the guardians of the revolution.

13. Discuss the role and importance of religion in Persepolis. How does religion define certain characters in the book, and affect the way they interact with each other? Is the author making a social commentary on religion, and in particular on fundamentalism? What do you think Satrapi is saying about religion’s effect on the individual and society?

14. In what ways is Persepolis both telling a story and commenting on the importance of stories in our lives? What does the book suggest about how stories shape and give meaning to our experience? Discuss some of the stories in Persepolis—Uncle Anoosh’s story, her grandfather’s story, Niloufar’s story.

15. What is Satrapi suggesting about the relationship between past and present, and between national and personal history? What role does her family history, and the stories of her relatives, play in shaping Marji?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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