Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Complete Persepolis: A Book Review

I didn't realize The Complete Persepolis was made into a movie (currently in theaters) until i was recommended the book. I would think seeing the movie would essentially be very similar to reading the book because the book is a graphic novel and the movie is subtitled (it's in French). At first i didn't think i'd get through this book for two reasons: 1. the only other graphic novel i've read is Maus (which I also loved) and 2. I'm not at all a "history buff." I usually avoid books on or mostly about history altogether. Persepolis was a very different story.

Persepolis is a coming of age story about Marjane, a young girl growing up in Tehran, Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is actually a retelling of the author's childhood and as such, deeply moving. Granted not a story of the average Iranian girl, Marjane is the child of progressive activist parents who teach her early on about the value of freedom, education, and independent thought. The book chronicles her life as she grows up in a war-torn country. Marjane's struggle for freedom is beautifully and creatively illustrated in every challenge from the veil to wearing make-up and nail polish to showing an inch of skin (on her wrist!) Despite the heavy subject, Marjane Satrapi's sense of irreverent humor shines through - there were several points in the book that i couldn't help but laugh, despite the seriousness of the situation.

The history in Persepolis is also really important. I didn't know much about the Islamic Revolution, America's involvement with Iraq against Iran, or the fall of the Shah. Through Persepolis i was able to learn how the Iranian religious fundamentalists came to power and what that meant for the people (especially women) of Iran. I knew the oppression Iranian women suffered but this helped me understand how it all came about.

But for me, the most important topic in Persepolis is Marjane's struggle for independence within a religiously oppressive government and country. Through the text, we can't avoid the countless examples Marjane sights in which women are marginalized and oppressed. One example is from the character's college years where she went to art school and had to draw a woman who posed as a model for their class in traditional Iranian clothes, head to foot (literally). There was absolutely no way to make out her form or to even imagine what was underneath the drapes. Marji and some of her friends got together after school and posed for each other, minus the drapery, and handed in those drawings, which got high marks and later worked as an example of how creativity was not stifled through religious oppression (ha!)

Clothing and the veil were major topics throughout the book. By law, women had to wear clothes that covered their entire body and it had to hang loose so that the shape of their body was not seen. One example of Marji finding this law more than annoying was when she was running late for a doctor's appointment and had to sprint to catch the bus. In general she had a hard time moving around in the traditional clothes but she also got in trouble for running - because when she ran, her butt moved in an obscene way that caused men to look at her...

Marji spunk and outspoken nature were probably due to her parents political involvement. She even had family that were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for being anti-government. Persepolis is grim at times and provides explicit examples of what life was like during the war in Iran but it is also an uplifting and honest depiction of one girl's struggle to fit in. Marji's parents sent her, as a teenager, to Vienna during the war to keep her safe. In Vienna Marji navigated between staying true to herself and fitting in among new friends. When she returned to Iran Marji still had a hard time fitting in due to her more Western ideals and lifestyle (sleeping with her boyfriend, saying what she was thinking, not believing everything she was told, etc).

All in all, Persepolis is a phenomenal account of a young girl's struggle to find herself in general, let alone within religious oppression. Maji is a perfect example of a strong female character which we should see more of in books and movies. Check out this book, it's really worth the read.


PhD in Yogurtry said...

so the book is in comic strip format? (for lack of a better word .. I don't want to come off as belittling of the format) I'm very interested in seeing the movie but also put off by the graphic setup (I am a film weenie). I'm sure once I get engrossed, the format will not matter.

Smirking Cat said...

"...she also got in trouble for running - because when she ran, her butt moved in an obscene way that caused men to look at her..."

What a typical "solution", to restrict women's freedom because of what some men may do or may think. Why not make the men wear blinders if what they see is such an overwhelming temptation and they cannot be expected to control their impulses?

BTW, do you have a Good Reads account? I just started one.