Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi ISBN: 978-0375714573, Pantheon; First Edition edition (June 1, 2004)

Plot Summary:

In Persepolis 1, Marjane Satrapi graphically depicts her life in Iran during a time of social unrest. She and her family suffered under a totalitarian government and were elated when the Shah was finally exiled only to find that they had exchanged one totalitarian government for another. Satrapi was a witness to the changes as her personal freedoms were being curtailed. All girls were forced to wear the veil, and separated from the boys. Anything that was non-traditional was labeled Western and decadent and was forbidden. Her Marxist, free-thinking family protested but went in constant fear of being found out by the authorities. Then the country was attacked by Iraq and Satrapi was a witness to the devastation of war. By the time Satrapi was fourteen, she was in full rebellion over the injustices that she had witnessed. Her mother feared that she would be executed and sent her to Austria to save her life.

Critical Evaluation: 

This incredibly moving tale is all the more absorbing because it is told from the perspective of a young girl who is trying to understand the world around her. Raised by intellectual parents to think critically, she observes what is happening and as a child, she asks questions about the things that don’t make any sense to her. Persepolis 1 attempts to create a narrative of the events that took place in Iran in the late seventies and early eighties and it is at turns amusing, heart breaking and satirical as it pokes fun at the inconsistencies of the totalitarian regimes. Its frank narrative style and simple black and white pictures make it easy to read, but many may find that depiction of dead bodies and descriptions of violence may be too much for them. Those who view the West in a saintly light may also be in for a shock as Satrapi depicts the Western nations as both manipulative and greedy.

Information about the author:

Born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran, Satrapi grew up in Iran’s capital, Tehran. She was an only child of secular, Marxist parents. Iran’s Islamic Revolution against the shah, the country’s monarch, took place in 1979, the year Satrapi turned ten, and her child’s-eye view of the changes in her country later became a focus of her first book. Her parents, who were against the regime of the shah, happily joined in the first protests that helped depose him, but the religious rule that followed turned out to be worse for them. An uncle of Satrapi’s was imprisoned by the shah’s regime, then executed by revolutionaries. Her mother, who was not religious, eventually felt compelled to wear Islamic garb to avoid attracting the attention of the religious police.

Satrapi studied at the Lycee Francais, the French high school in Tehran. Her parents, who had taught her to think freely and not believe the propaganda the government required the teachers to teach, became concerned when Satrapi began to openly question the teachers. They wanted their rebellious daughter to live in a freer society, so they sent her to Austria to study.

In Vienna, as she later recounted in her second book, Satrapi expected to live with a friend of her parents, but when the friend decided she did not want Satrapi with her any longer, she sent the young woman to live in a convent. She left, according to the book, when one of the nuns used ethnic slurs while yelling at her. She threw herself headlong into life as a western teenager, befriending punks and anarchists and throwing herself into romantic relationships and drug use. She found various temporary homes until, finally, she ended up homeless in wintertime and woke up in a hospital.

At 18, she moved back to Tehran, where she attended college and struggled to adjust to living behind a veil and under the watch of the religious police, which would sometimes raid and break up the parties where she and her friends would wear makeup and western clothes. After college, she moved to France, where she studied art in Strasbourg, then moved to Paris. Some of her friends there, who were part of a prominent artist’s studio called the Atelier des Vosges, introduced her to graphic novelists, starting with Art Spiegelman, whose graphic novel Maus told the story of the Holocaust through the lives of a few Jewish survivors. She realized she could tell stories and make serious points the same way. “Images are a way of writing,” she wrote on the Pantheon website. “When you have the talent to be able to write and to draw it seems a shame to choose one. I think it’s better to do both.” Graphic novels had some of the advantages of filmmaking as a way to tell stories, but without needing sponsors or actors, she added.

Inspired, Satrapi created a book of black-and-white comic strips about living in Tehran from ages six to 14. The book, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (named after a part of Iran known for its ruins) tells the story of her growing up, while also showing the Islamic Revolution and its effects on Iranians. Toward the end of the book, war breaks out between Iran and Iraq, and her mother puts tape on the windows of the family home, anticipating correctly that Iraqi bombs will fall nearby. The book also included moments of humor. “Tales of torture and war are offset by lighter scenes, like the 13-year-old Marjane trying to convince the morals police that her Michael Jackson button is really a button of Malcolm X, ‘the leader of black Muslims in America,'” wrote Tara Bahrampour in the New York Times. Iranians, Satrapi explained, are used to using humor to stave off despair.

Reader’s Annotation:

Persepolis 1 is the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Iran. Satrapi was a witness to the Islamic Revolution and the war between Iran and Iraq. The graphic novel is a witness to those who fought against totalitarianism in Iran and the power of greed.

Genre:

Graphic Novel. Autobiography.

Curriculum Ties:

World history. American foreign policy. American history.

Booktalking Ideas:

What would it be like if one day you had to give up freedoms that you had taken for granted.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Grades 5 and up/Grades 9 and up

Challenge Issues:

Depictions of violence, torture and death.

I would make sure that all material was purchased in accordance with my library’s collection development policy and make sure to keep a file containing positive reviews for books that I thought might be challenged. In the event of a challenge, I would actively listen to the parent’s concern and ask if they had read the book. I would then explain why the book had been added to the collection and provide with the reviews and a copy of the collection development policy. I would affirm that they are within their rights to limit what their children read, but that other parents also have the right to determine what their children can read. If all else failed, I would provide the parent with a reconsideration form.

Reasons for inclusion:

This book gives great insight into the history of Iran and the Middle East

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