Blurb (from Goodreads):
Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
I’m unsure how to review this, because it feels strange to criticize someone’s actual personality and experiences. I’m not trying to belittle what they lived through in any way.
I started Persepolis with plenty of hope. As an Iranian, I thought it would be interesting to see my country’s history through someone who’s lived it, but it stalled about halfway through for me.
I loved reading the first half of the book. Satrapi’s illustrations are beautiful. Watching the Revolution and Iran-Iraq War through the eyes of a child is heartbreaking, yet that childish perspective and naiveté also provides a certain humour. I enjoyed Marjane’s passion and curiosity as a child. The author also did a good job of providing a historical framework in which she sets her story. As she comes from a well-off family from Tehran, with Communist ties, a certain bias is understandable. She’s telling her story, her version of events.
“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.”
However, the book becomes less genuine and more political as the author grows older. It reads more as a sequence of events than as a story with any emotional depth. I began to dislike Marjane. She becomes increasingly rude, entitled and selfish as the story progresses– and her parents condone this entitlement. She constantly insults other people during confrontations, under the guise of demonstrating her independence. A moment that shows her selfishness perfectly is when she gets another man arrested in order to avoid being confronted by the Revolutionary Guard. After spending pages describing the ruthlessness of the regime, she shows no concern for what might have happened to that man. Is he in jail? Is he dead? Is he hurt? Marjane doesn’t care. She is remorseless, and even proud of herself, until her grandmother scolds her for her actions. Even then, she’s more concerned about her grandmother being mad at her than about the man’s fate.
Another problem I have is that Satrapi’s version of “freedom” is Western and irreligious. She sees herself as better than anyone who doesn’t subscribe to her values; religious people are uneducated and backwards, she’s liberal and free. In one frame, she says that you can tell how “progressive and modern” an Iranian woman is by how much skin they show. Equating modernity to Western values just doesn’t sit right with me. As someone who wants to describe herself as open-minded, Satrapi is quite rigid in her views.
All in all, I thought Persepolis was okay. I loved the way it is illustrated. I appreciate Satrapi’s complete honesty. I’m also grateful that a story about Iran is so accessible and popular amongst Western readers. However, the second half of the book simply fell short for me. Is the book this popular because it justifies pre-existing notions we have about countries like Iran? Oh, poor them, they are so oppressed, but deep down, they are just like us, they want to be just like us.