04 March, 2012
Review: Persepolis, The Story of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is one of the gold standards in graphic memoir for a reason. It might seem unfair to treat it as a fictionalized book but the power of it's real life events further illuminate the failure of imagination present in sexualized fiction. Satrapi comes completely alive in her book. We know who she is, we know the people around her, we care about their fates. A young child when the Shah is overthrown, Satrapi travels through her country's journey from a modern state to a repressed region. (Given that we will likely be at war with Iran before the end of the year, Persepolis becomes even more important.)
As a young girl, Satrapi has a personal relationship with Allah. She is educated in French schools and lives a life of comfortable affluence with her own servant (slave) and material comfort. As her country falls into disquiet and revolution, so does she. Marx slowly replaces God in her dreams, her goal of being The Prophet is replaced by dreams of revolution. Her parents march in the streets until the Shah is deposed and victory seems at hand. Satrapi struggles to make sense of the conflicting revolutions. War with Iraq arrives as long lost uncles and parents stream out of the prisons. The religious right scoops it's own political prisoners up for torture or execution and the veil is imposed. Western schools are closed and segregated. The cultural revolution isn't going the way her family intended. Classmates disappear through emigration or death. Even in her protected bubble of wealth and connections Satrapi is forced to confront the millions killed for the protection of political powers. Her own small rebellions, her refusal to relinquish everything about her former life lead her to a crossroads. Satrapi can either embrace radicalism or she can embrace exile.
When Neda Soltan was killed in 2009 many Westerners thought surely that would bring down the regime. Our Persian friends had a clearer view. They knew, as young Satrapi would have, that she was just one of the many. Yet another girl killed in the name of power, in the name of a narrow view of faith that must be upheld above all reason. In the early days of the revolution Satrapi's uncle thought that religious radicalism could not last. He believed that the men of faith would return to their temples and leave the daily running of the land to a new idealistic democracy. (Obviously, he misjudged that one. A cautionary tale for women in the current American political climate.) With so many books like Habibi, Aaron & Ahmed and Holy Terror on the market it is a gift to read Persepolis again. When we demonize the people of Iraq or Iran instead of the institutions holding them captive, we demonize young Satrapi. Read Persepolis; The Story of a Childhood and think about who the enemies really are.