When you think of comics it’s usually superheroes, science-fiction and horror that tends to spring to mind. Rarely do you think of autobiographies, despite the fact that a whole host of writers in recent years have decided to use this medium to tell their stories.
Persepolis is an account of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Iran, both before and after the Islamic Revolution that saw the overthrow of the Shah. Coming from a decidedly middle class background and educated in a mixed gender French school she is suddenly forced to start wearing a veil while in public. With Islamic fundamentalists now in charge many books and works of art are either banned or censored along with anything considered capable of corrupting the young.
Just as her family are coming to terms with these changes the Iran/Iraq War breaks out and Tehran is subjected to repeated missile attacks, one of which flattens the house next door to them killing the family inside. As a result of this her parents decide to send her abroad and at the age of 14 she goes to Austria to continue her studies.
Marjane quickly discovers that life in the West is just as confusing as life in Iran, and although she is suddenly presented by a host of new freedoms they do not necessarily bring her happiness. After a few years in Vienna, a few months of which she spends living on the streets, she returns to Iran and her family. In her time away Iran has undergone a significant transformation with most of the left-wing rebels either dead, in prison or in exile. Despite this though people still confront the regime in their own ways, ranging from how short women wear their veils to the thriving black market in Western goods. With the Guardians of the Revolution on every street corner ready to punish even minor infractions, Marjane attends university and gets married before finally leaving the country for good.
Essentially Persepolis is about a young woman growing up as her country becomes increasingly repressive. However most of her experiences are typical of young people everywhere e.g. arguments with her family and struggles with religion, Marxism, drugs and love. In other ways though it’s difficult to believe that the story takes places in the 1980s, a decade which I normally associate with MTV and the teenage movies of John Hughes.
While there are many books critical of the Iranian Revolution most of them are written either by Westerners or by men. Therefore it’s refreshing to read something from a female perspective. With most revolutions women always seem to get the short end of the stick and this is no exception. Persepolis is great for showing that while some did embrace the excesses of the revolution, a good chunk of Iran’s population were quietly appalled by what was going on. Ultimately the story is a hopeful one as it emphasises the fact that Iranians are exactly the same as us and that the more the state tries to repress them the more people will fight against it.
More recently Persepolis was turned into an animated movie retaining the same style as the graphic novel. When I have a spare moment I’ll be reviewing it but for the moment here is the trailer: