Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GN Review -- The Complete Persepolis / Marjane Satrapi

I've reviewed a few biographies on this blog, but it's fair to say that they're not typical reading fare for me.  One of the more memorable biographies I've read as a graphic novel is Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, which is collected in its entirety in one large volume.  I wasn't able to put it down once I started reading it, and consider it to be one of the so-called "literary" graphic novels that actually doesn't feel like pretentious garbage; it's a captivating character study as well as a historical and cultural story.

Marjane Satrapi is an outspoken, strong-willed girl growing up in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, when dictators and their generals are replaced with disconcerting suddenness, often with devastating consequences for individuals and families close to them.  Marji, who aspires to be a Prophet, spends much of her time vying for dominance among her circle friends, in pastimes such as competing for who has the best family prisoner stories, or trying to persecute the children of those who had killed or harmed others.  Her intolerance for hypocrisy and occasional disregard for authority lead her activist parents to fear for her safety, so they send her away to France, where she can grown into a young woman.  Marji struggles to make friends and assimilate into the general culture of the time, often losing touch with her own cultural heritage and identity.  When the disconnect becomes too much to bear, she asks to return home, and her family gladly brings her back.

Marji's return home, however, is nowhere near as smooth as she would like.  She at first does nothing but watch television, sequestering herself away from the country she no longer knows for a substantial period of time.  The Iranian government is as oppressive as ever, and Marji, who is as outraged at hypocrisy as ever, brings her ire to bear on the difference between how male and female college students are allowed to dress at university.  She enters into a relationship, soon followed by a marriage, which also soon dissolves as she realizes that she doesn't love her husband.  With all of these pressures mounting, her parents decide she must leave Iran again.  Her mother, in an act of love and personal distaste, forbids Marji from ever returning to Iran again.  Marji agrees, and leaves a second time, noting in the narrative that her departure was the last time she ever saw her grandmother alive.

Satrapi does an amazing job of capturing an accessible, genuine voice in this autobiography.  Her cartoon counterpart is charming, flawed, and both inspiring and impressionable.  Her struggles to live her way, despite environments that for one reason or another make it considerably difficult, is easy to relate to in a world where people often feel personally oppressed, isolated, or otherwise disjointed, however true or not that might actually be.  Other issues, like having to listen in secret to your favorite kind of music, or have a party where alcohol is served, are so far removed from the Western experience that their incredulity intrigues readers, who will react with horror, sympathy, and relief when the stories are told.  It makes for a wonderfully varied reading experience that will hold the reader's interest and keep them engaged.

Artistically, Satrapi's style is very simple, but very consistent and carefully rendered.  The expressiveness of her characters is striking, as she uses good narrative structure and layout as well as the natural contrasts between black and white to deliver a uniquely memorable visual experience to her story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story, and think it's a good introduction to the graphic novel format for reluctant readers.  Those who like biographies, cultural and historical dramas, and stories of personal journeys will no doubt enjoy this book.  Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent review! Really makes me want to read this book!