07 March, 2012

Review: Persepolis 2 The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

 Having talked about Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood I suppose I should address the sequel. Most people are going to read these two books in one volume. I almost wish they were not packaged together. While the story Marjane tells in this second section of her life is no less compelling it is less universal. 

In the first, Satrapi is a young child at the mercy of the forces around her. In the second she is a young adult making the sorts of bad choices many young adults make. Because she is in some control it is easier for the reader to judge her. In judging her the tale loses some of it's universal power. Where young Satrapi is grounded in her family, teenage Satrapi is lost. Her focus moves from the external to the internal. Having become an expatriate she is without family or culture to sustain her during some very formative years. She falls into self destructive habits that ultimately force her back to Iran. As much as Satrapi has changed (her parents don't recognize her) so too has her country. Now we are in an Iran Westerners feel comfortable with. Her struggles feel less immediate, there is a distance that one doesn't feel in The Story of a Childhood. I think the author is a remarkable woman and a remarkable talent. I am certain that some of the events she depicts so honestly in The Story of a Return haunt her to this day. It is to her immense credit that she neither excuses nor defends herself from reader censure. Satrapi reports her life and then stands beside it. 

In The Story of a Return Satrapi covers the drug years, the misguided love years, the years of finding herself in small rebellions that wouldn't have been open to a woman of a different class. She acknowledges her privileges and her limitations. Ultimately, like many displaced by war, the author realizes that she cannot live in her home country again. It is something often forgotten when we discuss immigrants. They are caught between worlds, having children that will always be slightly alien to them, trying to assimilate into a culture they didn't truly choose. When Germany unified all East Germans woke up in another country. The streets were the same, the neighbors were the same, but their home was forever gone. No matter how much they longed for freedom, that is a massive adjustment one can only imperfectly make. I hope there is, or will be, a third volume of Persepolis (The Story of Exile?) covering these years for Satrapi. She has had great success in her adopted country but I wonder what the cost was. 

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