The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi was born in Rasht, Iran. Now the woman lives in Paris and is constant contributor to newspapers and magazines all over the world. She is the author of Embroideries, Chicken with Plums and several books for children. But the life in Iran has left a powerful mark on her and she expressed it in one more novel The Complete Persepolis. Moreover she cowrote and codirected the animated feature film version of Persepolis.
The Complete Persepolis is an excellent autobiographical story of the author aboutgirl’s growing up in revolutionary Iran. It is a wonderful graphic book that will make everybody laugh out and think deeply at the same time. The graphic novel is a living and unique way to tell a story, it influences the reader not only verbally but visually. The drawings themselves are plain black and white, but Satrapi’s mastership makes them as effective as if they were colored. The visual elements allow her to depict the offstage. The author tells her story in direct way, not escaping from difficult topics and taboos, using humor. With the help of illustrations Satrapi successfully reflects the images of dinner table chats and political demonstrations, of the gentle touch of the loving parents and tortures in Iranian prison. Once in the interview Marjane said that drawings can communicate so much more than words, because there are some things which you have to see to fully know. Satrapi made her choice to tell the story in a graphic way, because such method brings a visual dimension to the novel and increases its impact. The directness of her style allows her to do two things at one time: to discriminate between individuals with just small touch of the pen and depict death, horrors without being ghastly.
The second considerable aspect of this book is what it tells the readers about Iran. The action starts in 1979, the year when the Shah of Iran was overthrown in a popular uprising. Marjane conveys not only historical facts but emotional facts as well. In the book we learn the history of the country that lies between the Arab world and Asia from Marjane’s father and her own studies. Throughout the history, Persia was constantly under attack and being invaded by one foreign power after another. The rebellion against the tyranny of the Shah in 1979 was corrupted, its members ended up imprisoned, tortured, and eventually executed by a new regime. Every uprising was brought to a stop by the American sponsored Iraqi invasion. Political prisoners died on the front lines or were executed. Eight years of war didn’t accomplish anything.
The Complete Persepolis is Marjane’s depiction of her life from the time she was ten, until her early twenties within a large and loving family in Tehran. In this book Marjane Satrapi shows the effect of the cultural change through the eyes of a child. The author makes us understand that growing up is hard to do in any culture; she illustrates that good and bad people exists; she unmasks the disgusting things and danger which media shows us. Many topics in this book will be familiar for the woman who once was a teenager: loneliness, trying to fit in, relationships in the society, incertitude, thinking you are not pretty or clever enough.
The little girl Marjane grew up in an intellectual, forward-thinking family. Her parents were successful, wise people. Their family had modern cars and televisions, they were interested in politics and literature, they listen to American music. But soon everything changed radically. Satrapi’s great grandfather was one of the country’s rulers in the early 20th century and when the first Shah came to power, he fell into disgrace. Several Marjane’s relatives have been thrown in prison for their demonstrating against the Iranian government and radical ideas; her mother was threatened with rape and death. All they were heroes for little girl.
The author compared the life before and during the Iranian Revolution. Young girl should find the means to combine the values that her family brought home with the conservative and female-unfriendly world outside (the women were forced to wear veils). Marjane’s parents hoped that everything would improve. But later Iraq, under the rule of Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran. And when the war intensified and condition worsened, Marjane, 14 years old, was send to school in Australia to continue her schooling separated from her circle of loving family members. Satrapi’s parents stimulated her to get the best education she can, they felt that it was the best way to find future happiness. But in Vienna the girl went through separation anxiety and got into more and more trouble, which culminated in her living on the streets. On one hand she was glad to be free from the rule of the Mullahs, on the other she didn’t have anything in common with her groupmates. Marjane didn’t speak any German, so she couldn’t communicate with anyone outside the classes. The girl stayed with the aunt, but later she was send to the boarding school for students run by nuns. It increased her feeling of isolation. She is not afraid to depict her own mistakes and failures: the drug use and living on the streets in Australia, her efforts to save her ass by making an innocent witness arrested, her failed marriage in the Motherland.
Marjane Satrapi returned home and saw that the life in Iran was not better. She observed the suppression of individual rights: to go to the art school she must be deemed ideologically fit, she had to wear the veil not to show a hair on her head, she risked arrest being seen on the street with her boyfriend. These conditions upset her greatly and after the failure in marriage Marjane went to Paris, where she currently lives.
Satrapi does a splendid job of differentiating various types of rebellion in our society. She studies the possible reasons, may they be fear or knowledge, and totally literally illustrates the outcomes.
This novel is a pretty good account of Iran’s history and motivations; it brings more information about the revolution that threw the Shah out of power. Details of Iran’s war against Iraq and their hatred of Saddam are rather cognitive. The tragic history of the war, governments imprisoning and execution of their countrymen gives the real picture of the life in Iran in the 20th century.
A large part of the novel is devoted to the depiction of the situation in Iran during the Revolution, but a significant part is dedicated to the growing up of an Iranian girl. The author shows her difficulties in understanding and accepting the situation before and during the War. Marjane depicts how hard was for a little girl to survive in a foreign country where she was send to continue schooling before the Revolution. Marjane didn’t know the language, had no relatives, who could help or support her, she felt loneliness and aloofness. Sometimes she used dishonest methods to save herself or even went down to using drugs. And what was Satrapi’s disappointment when she came back to Iran and didn’t see any changes for good in her country. Freedoms were curtailed, purges were carried out, and dreams were crushed.
The Complete Persepolis is an opportune novel for today, because our society is constantly building the boundaries between “outgroups” and ”ingroups”. Satrapi expels no one in her book; she doesn’t judge any group, though some thoughts are expressed. It is not a novel about who was right, who won or who suffer more. But the book of the importance of being aware of ourselves and understanding the results of the change. This story makes us realize that there are wonderful human beings who are doing their best to live deserving and noble life.
Mariane Satrapi. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon Books, 2007