The Complete Persepolis

With a manga-geek background, I was totally psyched when I found out we would be reading a graphic novel. I knew from the beginning how powerful this type of story-telling can be. I think what makes comic-like literature more accessible to people like me is the fact that the images are right there for you. When I read, I have to really think hard and play close attention to get the image and then get what is going on. Usually, the attempt to get the image is brushed aside in favor of getting the message, otherwise reading would take too much time. With the image already there for you, you can focus on what is really going on. And a lot is certainly going on.

This book reminded me a lot of a book I read many, many years ago (totally cannot remember the name). See, the other reason I was excited about this novel was because it was about Iran, and the book I read a while ago was all about an Iranian girl coming to the US to find a husband so she could escape the oppression. The female oppression, the illegality of parties, I read up on all of that and found it fascinating (and terribly sad). What I gained from Persepolis, though, was the background–even the fact that there was a “before the oppression.” I did not know/remember that Iran used to be Persia, that Iran was always at war, that the hijab used to be optional, etc.

Reading up on politics and political history and such is so exhausting, and half the time I have no idea what the heck I’m reading. Satrapi was straight and to the point, using her own life stories to explain what was going on. For example, on page 75, she talks about how people were forced to dress, now: “But let’s be fair. If women faced prison when they refused to wear the veil, it was also forbidden for men to wear neckties (that dreaded symbol of the west). And if women’s hair got men excited, the same thing could be said of men’s bare arms. And so, wearing short-sleeved shirts was also forbidden . . . It wasn’t only the government that changed. Ordinary people changed, too.” The use of personal stories/opinions and artwork made it all so simple to understand. You laughed and cried and raged with her. How can a country to that to its people? I simply could not put this book down, and I will always cherish it for all its taught me about Iran.


Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2007. Print.


2 thoughts on “The Complete Persepolis

  1. I know EXACTLY what you mean about trying to read up on politics and having no idea what you’re reading half the time, and I definitely appreciate Persepolis for how it cuts through all the muck and shows the reader exactly how the politics of a specific place affected this specific person during a given time period. So often in reading an academic essay, or sometimes even just a news article, about politics in a certain country (I’ve been on a real Syria kick lately) I get to the end and I’m like, “OK, so what?” Finding the “takeaway” can seem so daunting when you don’t have a whole lot of background on the politics of the region. But with Persepolis, Satrapi gives the reader all the basic information that he or she needs to contextualize the story, and from there, we get to make sense of everything right along with the character; we get to experience the implications and consequences (the “so what’s”) of several years of Iranian politics vicariously through Satrapi’s autobiographical rendering of herself. I think it’s a really effective way to teach and learn about a region, especially one for which so many people’s “background knowledge” is actually quite flawed (i.e., just about anywhere in the Middle East). Based on some of the interviews with Satrapi that I came across, her primary goal was to educate people on what it meant to be Iranian, and what life in Iran was actually like. I think she chose the perfect medium for doing just that.

  2. I definitely agree with the point to you made about reading politics. Personally I find it to be dry, depressing,and exhausting. That was one thing that intimidated me when I was considering this section of senior sem last semester–writing the political sounding like it could be a torturous topic for someone like me who doesn’t even like to watch the news or read the paper. Luckily, I have actually learned a surprising amount not only about the political, but also what exactly that loaded term means.
    In response to the comments made about the graphic novel format of this book–I actually wrote a lot about that in my blog post! Satrapi was brilliant to write about her life and experience in the war using this format because it IS so accessible and interesting. It is also unique–to have such an effective piece of political literature being told from the perspective of a child. I think it is almost MORE effective than if this story would be narrated by an adult Satrapi because with a child narrator, the topic is much less intimidating to approach and yet just as sharp and painful when it is necessary.

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