30 July 2008

"The Complete Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi

The Complete Persepolis
Written and Illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Date of publication: 30 October 2007 (movie tie-in edition)
Cover price: $24.95
Oldham County Public Library - Volume 1, Volume 2

The Complete Persepolis collects both parts of a two-volume memoirs, written by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi is an Iranian woman who came of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, but whose studies were made in Austria as she entered adulthood. Her family is liberal--especially for Islamic Iran--and so she grows up idolizing her grandfather, a betrayed and imprisoned prince, and an uncle, imprisoned for his participation in a revolution. In Europe, Satrapi endured guilt over not being at home, hip deep in the same atrocities as were her family and friends. The absence of such daily violence in Austria created a bubble around her classmates, making difficult the prospect of forming meaningful relationships.

Living through finding a bracelet still attached to a dismembered part of your childhood friend as you survey the damage to the home next to yours from a missile attack is not something that most people have experienced. Coming from two different worlds while feeling at home in neither, however, is a theme with which many easily identify. I, for one, grew up with my mom's side of the family quite urban and liberal in most things, and my dad's side quite rural and conservative across the board. Over the years, this has bred in me a frustration with people who only think in abstract terms as well as those without enough imagination to think in the abstract at all. I can, like Satrapi, exist in both environments, yet I find myself feeling out of place in either.

These memoirs are absorbing, engaging, inspiring. I, for one, finished reading the entire 300-plus page volume in one reading. Having taken the courses I took at the University of Louisville, coupled with my own working knowledge of Iran, I was not particularly surprised by anything Satrapi covered. Many, though, will find this work illuminating; imagine, Iranians who are not extremists or terrorists! They really do exist, and Satrapi has done an excellent job of conveying this. One of the best moments comes as she watches TV with her dad, and they see Europeans panicking to stock up on supplies as the Gulf War breaks out. Having been desensitized to the violence, the prospect of people living much farther from the conflict going into a state of pandemonium is too much for the Satrapis and they proceed to laugh heartily. So did I.

There is a film adaptation of this work, and while I wholeheartedly recommend it, I strongly advise anyone who is interested in Satrapi's story to read the graphic novel. To meet the demands of the different medium, the film abandoned many parts of the graphic novel's narrative. They may not be essential, but once you've read them, you notice their absence. It's up to you to decide if you'd rather read the fuller story first and be potentially disappointed by the briefer film, or see the film first and be rewarded by the expanded narrative of the graphic novel.

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