September 27, 2010

Persepolis & Persepolis 2

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I picked up Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi from the library and flew through it so fast, I had to go back for Persepolis 2 right away. I just had to see what was going to happen to Marjane.

Marjane grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and a bunch of wars. I really don't know much about Iran and the troubles they had at the time. Marjane is 5 years older than I am and I really can't remember much from that era (except that we were always worried about the Russians). Back to Marjane- as her family was very liberal, they had great difficulty adjusting to this new repressive regime, Marjane especially. An adult knows when to keep their mouth shut to save themselves, a child who is used to believing in certain ideas can't help themselves when faced with contradictions. So Marjane gets kicked out of school, a lot, and also witnesses the deaths of many, many people in her life. Her parents make the difficult decision to send her to Europe and so ends Persepolis...

In Persepolis 2, 14 year old Marjane starts her life in Austria at a school run by nuns. And thus begins the era I keep referring to as The Reason a Teenager Is Not Equipped to Live On Their Own. Marjane is particularly vulnerable because of all that she went through plus her parents are practically unreachable. They might as well be on the moon. She is lonely and can't fit in. She falls in with the wrong crowd and does some things that if I was her Mom I would have had a stroke if I found out about it.

It gets worse and Marjane ends up back in Iran feeling like a failure. Her parents are happy to have her back but she has a hard time relating to them and her old friends. They've been through a war, while although she had her freedom, she was desperately lonely. Getting back into her old life and living under new rules is nearly impossible.

Although Persepolis the First could be heartbreaking, Persepolis 2 fascinated and horrified me. People were jerks to Marjane, but she could be a jerky teen herself. The sad part was that she had no safe haven, no parent to talk to. She was suffering silently but her parents couldn't look too closely at the situation. I gather that they didn't have the means to be with her so all they could do was hope for the best. They were between a rock and a hard place. What does a parent do?

While war and death are awful, I was struck by the everyday loss of freedom and how ordinary people wage their personal rebellions. Women wearing make-up, men and women partying together, these seem like small things to people like me but these people were putting their lives at risk. These are little victories but the act of accomplishing them take their toll. The sneaking around must be exhausting. As Marjane points out if you're worrying about your hair being covered then you're not thinking about the big things you should be.

Marjane doesn't pretty herself up either. She presents herself warts and all. Late in the story, she does something despicable but doesn't shy away or make excuses for it. She did what she did and there are consequences. You got to respect someone so direct even if she sometimes makes you uncomfortable.

Illustrated in bleak black and white, Persepolis is a view of a world so foreign to me. Highly recommended.

Persepolis was made into film a few years ago. I haven't seen it yet but here's the trailer.


  1. Thanks for the review and recommendation. This book is already on my wish list but I hope to get to it soon, especially if it's quite a quick read anyway.

  2. Great write up! I really enjoyed the first part but I admit I couldn't enjoy the second part -- I just despised her and thought she made horrible decisions so her problems were her own fault. You're right, though -- that's a result of teenagers not really supposed to be living on their own.

  3. Persepolis I & II were my first introduction to graphics as a medium to tell a story. It was also my first book relevant to the middle east. I read them both consecutively about two years ago.

    There were many things that impressed me about these memoirs. Specifically I appreciated how they could make me feel so ignorant to a culture that I only have glimpses of. The war aspect, and the government take over confused me some. I guess my ignorant self assumed that life was always like that for them. I e-mailed a close friend of mine who is from Palestine shortly after reading the books to get clarification. Annie did a wonderful job explaining but I still wanted more. Unfortunately, I have not sought out any more books about the Middle East, even though it's a subject that interests me greatly.

  4. Leeswammes- Hope you enjoy it!

    Rebecca- I struggled with that too. She made so many bad decisions and I was so aggravated with her. But I had to remind myself that she was just a lonely girl- still a kid who needed parents. It's sad.

    Christina- I had no idea either and I still feel confused about it. I can't imagine living like that where every change in political situation could mean death for a family member.

  5. Like Rebecca, I preferred the first part of this collection, but I didn't HATE the second part. I just found it disappointing. Lots of teenagers struggle and feel lonely and make stupid decisions, even if they're living at home with concerned parents, and I guess it just felt like the book had lost the uniqueness of the first volume. I don't know. Maybe it's just that reading about drug use turns my stomach. I just preferred the first book.

  6. Amanda- I had tender feeling for part 1 but part 2 was a meatier story. It made me think a lot more. I couldn't help but put myself in her parents' shoes, wondering how they would have reacted had they known what was going on.

  7. The Complete Persepolis was the first graphic novel (actually, a series of graphic novels) I ever read. My reaction was similar to yours -- I felt like Marjane's bad behavior was unpardonable at times, but I absolutely appreciated the fact that she didn't sugarcoat it. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  8. Great review! It's been several years since I've read these, and I have every intention of re-reading them at some point. I was also impressed by the fact that she presented herself in such a brutally honest way. It takes a lot of guts to do that.

    Haven't seen the film yet, but my library has it. Yay!

  9. I thought this book was fantastic too. I even learned a lot as I read it.

  10. I had to stop reading. I don't want to know about #2 until I read #1, LOL. I don't even read the back cover of sequels until I've finished the first book.

    But it definitely sounds like a book worth reading. I'll have to see if my library carries it (once I pay the late fees.. err). :)

  11. I still haven't picked up these books themselves, but I so loved the movie. It was really well done and thought-provoking. I really need to read these ones - they sound like absolute winners.

  12. I want to see the movie at some point. I read Persepolis earlier this year and wasn't sure about it, but I recently reread it in light of other memoirs about Iran and I couldn't help but realise that this is one of the best out there in that genre. Still not sure about some things in the book, but I won't go into that :)

  13. I am going to give in to all the fuss and get the first book for the read-a-thon. I hope I enjoy it as much as everyone else seems to.

  14. These two books were my introduction to manga and I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed them! And I am still occasionally picking up manga so that's a good sign right?

  15. Like some of the others, Persepolis was the first graphic memoir I read. I read it together with this other memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. I loved Persepolis better, though. Between Persepolis 1 and 2, however, I think that I was more charmed by the first book. There's something about the child's point of view.


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