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.