With The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi achieves what many before her have strived to do– but none have succeeded so wholly: Memoir, Political History, Philosophy and Ethic Study, and graphic novel all rolled cleaning into a single volume (Or, uh, well, two volumes. But I read the Omnibus. Because I could). Satrapi hides nothing in the black and white comic book pages of her text.
Life is too short to be lived badly.
I picked this book up as part of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club. Originally written and published in French as two separate volumes, Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Tehran, Iran was compiled into a single volume after the release of the 2007 film Persepolis. Translated into English, we follow Marjane Satrapi’s life beginning in the early 1970s. Told in stark black-and-white chapters of comic strips we follow her from childhood to adulthood, from Iran to Austria to Iran to France. Throughout, we are not only learning about the turbulent life Satrapi herself experienced but the turbulence of the Middle East. We get to witness firsthand how the constraints of her country’s laws and religion chafe the women of Iran; especially the rebellious streak of Satrapi herself.
The Revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.
Satrapi is honest and unabashed in telling the tales of her own life. Her character is completely imperfect and totally believable. There are times where she is self-centered, angry, jealous and self-deprecating– but really, Satrapi is just a person trying to figure things out. It’s apparent as an adult reader that she is going through all the typical phases of her life. Puberty and the rebellious side, most obviously. But Satrapi only wants what all other people want: to be happy and to be herself. Unfortunately, the world she is growing up in keeps trying to tell her who to be and how to be it. Satrapi is ever-changing, but always interesting and unique. She never fully conforms to the situations around her, no matter the pressure.
I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman… and so another dream went up in smoke.
This is also what makes her something of a revolutionary in Iran. Satrapi was unwilling to bow or cower or change because someone told her to. She stood up for herself and her beliefs, even when she was concerned it would damage her or her prospects for the future. That said, she wasn’t always perfect.
I finally understood what my grandmother meant. If I wasn’t comfortable with myself, I would never be comfortable.
The flow of this work, while chronological, also illustrates what a challenging and confusing time Satrapi grew up in. Attempting to mix Iranian culture and experiences with the Western world is confusing, and so Satrapi’s experience growing up also was. It is powerful to see how easily moments flow from repressive political turmoil to her personal life with family and friends. As someone who has grown up American, I’m just glad I can even have a glimpse into what life might be like for the women of Iran during the revolution.
I realized then that I didn’t understand anything.
I read all the books I could.
The art also reinforces the stark reality of what it was like growing up as Marji Satrapi. Sharp, simple, black and white drawings with minimal facial detail dominate the pages. This style of drawing allows the reader to be as immersive in Satrapi’s world as they wish to be. It’s easy to view this work as a simple collection of comic strips and separate oneself from the brutality and violent emotions Satrapi experienced. However, from the lens of surrealism, this style of art also allows the reader to immerse themselves entirely. Any face can be substituted. Any real-life image could appear. Plus, as all the words AND art were done by Satrapi herself, we know that this is a clear lens into her experiences. Even the moments when young Satrapi is speaking with God and with Marx are as Satrapi envisioned them. The art also allows Satrapi to better explain her feelings and ideas by using images to convey what words cannot.
A compelling life story emphasizing the importance of being yourself and standing up for a cause; I strongly recommend you go read this now.