Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Genre: Memoir / Graphic Novel / Coming of Age

I had seen the film Persepolis and since it is Banned Books Week and there's been a controversy about the Chicago public school system trying to pull the book off the shelves, I finally read the graphic novel! 

Persepolis is a graphic novel about Marjane Satrapi's life. As the child of communist revolutionaries, Satrapi grows up in Iran during the 1970s and early 1980s.
From her young eyes, she sees the fall of the Shah and later the rise of the Islamic Republic in 1979, which introduces and enforces strict rules for the daily lives of Iranians, including what they can't wear, listen to, or watch. Her family loses loved ones and friends to prisons, executions, and torture.

Marjane grows into an intelligent young woman, but her questioning of authority eventually attracts the dangerous kinds of attention. Fearing for her future and well being, Marjane's parents send her to Vienna, where she lives for four years. In Vienna, she lives with friends, pretends to smoke by rubbing her eyes to make them red, does drugs, and dates a jerk. But she feels alone. 

When she returns to her parents, she finds that Iran has become very strict, and she has trouble readjusting after having had so much more freedom in Europe. 

The story is significant not only as a memoir of her complex life, but also as a record of the conditions and circumstances of Iranians in the late 20th century. 

Photo source: Themarysue

As Satrapi quotes in the 2002 introduction, "One can forgive but one should never forget."

What I Liked:
  • It made me cry. - This is probably where the graphic novel beats the film. It took a lot longer for me to read the graphic novel than watch the film. I'm not a person who cries easily for books, memoirs, or movies, but the ending made me tear up. It is a true demonstration of love when you tell someone to leave for their safety and happiness, even if that means you will never see them again. Her parents and grandma are amazing people.
  • Bi-culturalism & Double Identities - She spends her teen years in Vienna, where people discriminate against her for being Iranian. Then she comes back, and she feels alienated from the other Iranians because of her more European mindset. Also, with her friends, their mindsets are different. She's not Iranian enough to blend with Iranian society; she's too Iranian to blend in with the Europeans. Not that she's ashamed, though. Before she left, her father told her to never forget where she came from. This struggle is something that any bi-cultural person with a hyphenated identity can relate to. 
  • Politics, Religion, History & Philosophy - I didn't know very much about the history of Iran or its culture before I read the book, and the explanations are eye-opening without being too dense (one perk of the graphic novel medium). Her parents give her books on history and politics to read, and have short but opinionated commentary on the current events of their time. Her Uncle Anoosh, a Marxist, remarks that since half of the Iranian population is illiterate, they cannot be united through Marxist ideals - instead, what pulls them together would have to be nationalism or religion.
  • Sexism in Iran - Satrapi separates women into two categories: traditional and modern. The women express their camp of choice by the way they dress, but Satrapi finds out that while her friends dress like modern Western women, they are actually strict traditionalists inside when it comes to moral values like virginity, sex, and marriage. They are shocked by how open she is about sex. 
    The laws in Iran were in favor of men in most cases, such as crime witnesses, marriage, and the right to divorce. 

  • It made me laugh. - Satrapi's family and community are subject to much hardship caused by the war and their government, but there is an underlying theme of resilience throughout the book. To cope and free themselves from bitterness, she and her loved ones joke about the circumstances and ridiculousness surrounding them. 
"That day, I learned something essential: we can only feel sorry for ourselves when our misfortunes are still supportable... Once this limit is crossed, the only way to bear the unbearable is to laugh at it." (page 268) 

What I didn't like: This was really good. It's hard to think of something I didn't like. 


Further Comments 
Since the animation is similar to the graphic novel but has fewer stories, I recommend the graphic novel. The book version doesn't rush, and therefore the scenes felt more emotional. 

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

My rating: 

Thanks for reading! If you've read the book, what did you enjoy or not like about Persepolis? If you haven't read the book... *throws book at you* Does this sound like a book you would read?


  1. Loved Persepolis! I'm not really a graphic novel person but I had to read this for a class and it's one of the best books I've ever read. Have you read Persepolis 2? It's just as good!

  2. I had to read it for a class too! -it was a memoir writing class. The end of Persepolis 2 was what made me cry. So good!