As a graphic novel, Persepolis literally illustrates the history for the reader without leaving much to the imagination. Although that might seem like a disadvantage, I think that’s actually appropriate for the content of the novel. It helps to keep our “western” ideas and conceptualizations of Satrapi’s world separate and we can see her world exactly the way she sees it, even during her childhood. That made me appreciate this text even more, and how it is helping me understand the Islamic Revolution more clearly. As part of an assignment for another class, I am keeping up with the current bigger media stories in the Middle East. Understanding their history on a deeper level has definitely allowed me more incite to their current interests. (And in case any one is curious, the Arab League Summit is meeting in Baghdad this week; 2 big topics of discussion are the situation in Syria as well as Iran’s nuclear plans.)
Reading Farideh Goldin’s article called Iranian Women and Contemporary Memoirs made me think about how dangerous writing a memoir can be for an Iranian. Goldin says, “Writing of self is frightening; it has consequences. Life narratives cannot possibly explain the author’s life alone without involving other family members and friends.” And Satrapi speaks out so boldly of the oppression her friends and family suffered from and their acts of protest. Goldin’s article also talks about the reason why so many memoirs have been written in recent years and I thought it was interesting that she attributes that partially to the Bush administration creating a stir of western interest in Iran: “with the wealth of material on Iranian history and the fallout from the Iranian Revolution, and western curiosity about a country that was recently labeled as an axis of evil by the Bush administration, it is possible to have a personal story that is not totally private; it is possible to write a life narrative that is more political than confessional.” And, at least to me, Persepolis is not an exception to that idea; it tends to act more as an informative story than as a diary, even despite the fact that Satrapi seems to hold back nothing.
I think the most interesting thing about this story as a graphic novel is that it gives somewhat of a history lesson disguised within the Sunday comics. It’s not until the second half of the novel that we get to see Marji as an adult, so the first half documents the experiences of a child growing up among warfare. Being a kid, her view of the world is far more fantastic and magical, as though everything were make believe, and the context being in comic form captures that perfectly. For example, her relationship with God is shown by depicting him as a large bearded man that looks like a cross between Santa and Karl Marx who comes down and speaks to her in an extremely casual and comfortable way. Imagining God as a cartoon in this way, and also putting him at the same level as her, as someone that she can yell at, get mad at, and tell to “Go away” is a great way of representing her child’s mind. In fact, all of the stories of history that she learns from her books and from her parents are depicted in the same way, as though she were using GI Joe’s or Barbie dolls to act out historical events. I think the form of graphic novel for this text does a great job of interpreting the mind of a child understanding “adult” conflicts.
One of my favorite sections in the novel was the chapter titled “The Veil,” in which Marji suffers a dark period of depression, having lost her boyfriend, her money, and a place to live. When she returns home, she feels guilty for being so wrapped up in her own small dramas when the rest of the world, when her home country, when her family were suffering war. She walks through town and feels as though she were “walking through a cemetery…surrounded by the victims of a war I had fled” (251). I couldn’t help comparing this section in the novel to the blog called “Hyperbole and a Half,” whose last post was documenting the writer, Allie Bosh’s, bouts of depression. The blog uses written descriptions and (often hilarious) drawings, much like a graphic novel, to tell stories. In this blog post, titled “Adventures in Depression,” she explains how depression feels, and even illustrates the part of her that scolds herself for being sad for no reason. In fact, it’s a very accurate depiction of feelings of depression. Regardless, the use of graphics helps the narration of her experiences with depression similarly to how it helps Marji’s narration. She depicts her depression with dark images, small self-illustrations, and few words, characterizing a loneliness in the drawings. Not only can the graphics of the novel characterize child-like imaginings, but the visual depiction of feeling depressed.
Bosh, Allie. “Hyperbole and a Half.” Hyperbole and a Half. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/>
There are a few things that stand out to me about this book. One is that this is a graphic novel which has not been assigned, if at all, here in the SUNY Fredonia English department. I really enjoy the graphic novel because you still must use your imagination to piece together the story but you have the help of the pictures to stay completely on track with the Marjane Satrapi’s vision. It is as if this is a novel and a play combined into one. Every so often there is a picture of only the narrator which seems like a mini conversation between the narrator and the audience with the rest of the cast frozen in time on stage.
The other aspect of Persepolis that stood out to me was that the narrator is a child. Children have a completely different perspective on reality from adults. They do
not see sides or differences in ethnicity. The only thing that children want to know is why they can no longer see their friends in school every day. All of the changes and issues going on around her are difficult to understand. Throughout the first section of this book it becomes apparent just how easily it is to mold the mind of a child. Children believe who they trust. Marji trusts her parents just how Ramin trusts his father. He does not find killing human beings wrong because his father has made communists the “bad guys” in his mind. When Marji confronts Ramin about his father and the murders he states, “He is not a murderer! He killed communists and communists are evil.(p46)”
I’ve always loved graphic novels ever since I was a nerdy little high schooler who couldn’t wait for the newest adaptation of a Frank Miller tale. V for Vendetta, Sin city, 300 and many others became quite popular among the media. My favorite of those is V for Vendetta which tackles a lot of political issues within England and makes some very, very bold statements about where the country is heading. I use V for Vendetta as an explanation as to why Satrapi decided to tell this story in graphic novel form. These stories are easy to compare because honestly as a writer I can see the act of writing these stories out in strict novel form being an incredibly challenging and long winded task. Being able to show characters’ emotions through an image simple saves space and can be more effective in certain situation-both novels containing such situations.
While illustrating the novel definitely helped tell the story in a unique way, the perspective definitely served as the most important part of the story. Satrapi’s choice to tell this story through the eyes of a little girl makes her ignorance and lack of knowledge understandable, and offers the reader a chance to learn about her country and the conflict within it with her. This is probably my favorite text in the class syllabus and I think it’s because it offers a much more in depth learning curve which is both education but most importantly entertaining at the same time.
I’ve enjoyed this book the most so far in class for several reasons. First of all, the format of the book is enjoyable and makes for an easy read. I think this is important that this book is a graphic novel because the Iranian Revolution was such a serious matter. Reading the book as one would a comic strip takes a lot of seriousness and previous political ideology out of the equation. There is no way we as Americans are used to reading about matters dealing with Iran in a similar way to which we read “Calvin and Hobbs”, and thus it brings many new ideas and perspectives to light regarding the situation as a whole. When combined with the narrative from a little girl growing up amidst the revolution, I find myself actually re-learning what happened. Some things I had misconceptions about includes everything from the attitude of the country (I had no idea there were so many sides to the revolution, or that so many events took place before the taking over of the U.S embassy; it seems Americans only perceive the revolution as taking place once our embassy was taken over). I also like the little girls depiction of God as a personable force in her life, as well as her religious comments in the beginning of the novel. We clearly see how religious attitudes of the country are much like our own in America, and possibly even more mild when considering the Evangelical Resurgence in the political climate of the U.S. Also, as clearly depicted in the last bubble on page 79, I learned that Arabs are NOT Iranians. This concept never occurred to me.
I was stunned to learn how repressive the regime was over a population which didn’t necessarily support a religious government. As seen with the family, people have very mixed views about religion – an idea embodied in the little girl. It amazes me how people use torture and violence to subjugate a population in fear and obedience. This concept is so foreign to me I can’t relate to it at all.
However, my favorite part about this novel is the humanity found within each character. I think it’s safe to say I’ve never been spoken to a group of Iranians in my life and therefore have never gotten a preview as to who they are as people. From what the graphic novel has pointed out, they are just like us; emotional, intelligent, and even funny. My favorite example of humor in the novel is on page 81. The little girl is complaining about the Iraqi’s telling her father how “they want to invade us”. Her fathers response really cracked me up; “And worse they drive like maniacs.” Its the same sort of everyday humor I could hear an American person using about some other group of people which we don’t understand or connect with.
Lastly, I’m fascinated by the clothing restrictions put on the population by the new Iranian government. Neckties, short sleeves and skirts were banned among other things. Recently I’ve also heard that Shorts and necklaces have been banned for men in that country. What does banning a style of clothing do to people? This is a question I will bring up in class. To show the hypocrisy of such an idea, here is a picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Please tell me that the lack of his necktie doesn’t still contradict his Armane suit. There is a stark contradiction to the traditional dress of the religious leaders of Iran, like Ayatollah Khomeini. Why is this? This is what puzzles me about the modern Iranian regime – the mixed signals we get in trying to understand them. Just like the little girl in Persepolis.
I cannot even begin to describe how brilliant I think it is that Satrapi chose to present her memoirs in this format. Books are so common, but graphic novels, at least autobiographical graphic novels, are rare (that I have seen). I’m not even sure where to begin with this graphic novel. Surprised and shocked would be two very accurate adjectives which could be used to describe how I reacted while I was reading, and also when I found out Persepolis is a memoir. So I suppose I shall begin with the brilliance in which Satrapi uses a pre-adolescent/adolescent girl–herself–to provide readers with a new lens to view the war through. It is not often that a writer is willing to do something such as that because it can be quite risky. Satrapi risked her credibility when she decided to make her memoir into a graphic novel; she also risked losing an audience because not everyone is a fan of graphic novels. Admittedly, this is my very first graphic novel so I don’t have any basis to compare, but I think Satrapi does an excellent job reaching out to all different kinds of audiences in this book.
There are so many panels I wish I could talk about because there are endless moving sections of this book. However, because I am spatially limited, I really want to focus on one particularly moving section which is found under the heading of “The F-14s.” While Marji is in school the class is given an assignment to write about the war. Marji, being the know-it-all character that she is automatically exclaims she knows everything about the war and writes “Four pages on the historical context entitled ‘The Arab Conquest and our War.'” (Satrapi 86) Because she is still relatively young and in the late stages of childhood egocentrism, Marji is extremely proud of her knowledge. This is all well and good but I was truly moved to tears whenever Pardisse read her simple yet sweet letter to her father, “It was a letter to her father in which she promised to take care of her mother and little brother…’rest in peace, dad.'” (Satrapi 86) This little girl managed to move not only the class and teacher to tears, but the reader as well. That is the sign of good writing for sure.
One of the awesome things about Persepolis is that it is not just a graphic novel. Below is in interview with Satrapi about the film version of Persepolis (I definitely want to see this!).
All in all, Satrapi provides us with a fresh and interesting twist on the war in Iran by allowing us to see it through the eyes of a child.
Persepolis. Digital image. Dance with Shadows. 28 June 2007. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.dancewithshadows.com/movies/persepolis-iran-protest.asp>.
Persepolis Exclusive: Marjane Satrapi. Perf. Marjane Satrapi. Youtube.com. Youtube, 19 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.
Satrapi, Marjane, and Marjane Satrapi. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2007. Print.
To get this out of the way, I’m halfway through Persepolis and I think it’s great. The serious overtones lightened by the perspective of a child’s innocence in the beginning of the story makes for an interesting way of conveying political history, and the narrative medium of the graphic novel takes it one step further in making it accessible to an even wider audience. I’m looking forward to watching the animated film after I’m done with the book.
This isn’t the first graphic novel I’ve read, but it is the first one that has had obvious political statements. There’s many places to choose from, but the page that felt really strong in statement was on page 48. I felt it said a lot about why, often, certain nations offer up any kind of support to another nation or group: personal gain.
In the first row of panels we are seeing the report about the Shah’s exile and how Jimmy Carter is refusing him and his family refuge. Marjane’s father then says, “It looks like Carter has forgotten his friends, all that interests him is oil!” Very brief, but those few words have much more meaning. It’s a direct statement on how the U.S. sets up puppet leaders for personal gain, then forgetting them when usefulness has been lost. We are not the only ones though, as Britain was pointed out as setting up the now exiled Shah’s father for the small price of giving them the oil. A reason I find this interesting is because it always seems that when looking at conflicted situations history is often left out of the picture, at least when it comes to informing the (U.S.) public at large.
In the second row of panels the father again makes an interesting statement: “In any case, as long as there is oil in the Middle East we will never have peace.” This, to me, rings true, especially in light of what the author states in the introduction. Unfortunately it comes down to cold politics, which, again, as the father says in the last panel, “Politics and sentiment don’t mix.” Through young Marjane’s eyes we see the erosion of a way of life that seems to have been brought about by the setting up of a puppet for foreign diplomats seeking to enrich their own countries. Their normal lives disrupted and largely lost because of self-interest without sentiment, compassion, for human lives.
Maybe I’m wrong on some of this and just venting some anger about the fact that these kinds of things have and do happen. What’s great is that we have an example of a work produced in a medium that usually doesn’t get much wide-spread critical attention conveying political information in such an accessible manner.