Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Story of Persepolis

The first panel.
The story of Persepolis is the is the story of the author, Marjane Satrapi, quite literally trying to find her place in the world. As with many coming of age stories, the reader follows Satrapi as she struggles to interact with and incorporate herself in various communities. In many ways, Satrapi’s story is very similar to the stories of so many teenage girls: struggles with authority, boys, her self confidence, peer pressure. However, Satrapi’s method of storytelling, of incorporating political history and the personal stories of the people in her life, gives the reader the sense that her story is unlike any story told before.

From the first page, Persepolis introduces the reader to Marjane Satrapi and the Iranian society that surrounded her at the time. Satrapi simultaneously introduces her child self, and the oppression she faced at the young age of ten, when she first began to feel the effects of the Islamic regime in Iran, and she and her female classmates were forced to begin to wear a veil, and were separated from their male peers. In the pages that follow, Satrapi goes on to quickly and clearly establish the turbulent political atmosphere of Iran in the 1980s, and her family’s place as political activists and revolutionaries in that society. 

Young Marjane trying to engage in political discourse
with her father and uncle Anoosh.
Throughout the first part of the novel, we follow Marjane as she begins to understand and explore the political climate of Iran at the time. Satrapi shows the reader her struggles with war and an increasingly oppressive society, and her family and their personal stories and struggles, including her uncle Anoosh, a fierce political activist who instantly became her hero (Satrapi, 54). She tells the stories of people close to her, such as her neighbour, Neda Baba-Levy, who is killed in her home by an attack from the Iraqi army, along with her whole family. Not only is Satrapi able to elegantly convey these stories through her art, she is also able to weave in all the relevant historical information in a natural way, so it fits easily in with the smaller personal stories, and at no time is the reader confused or lacking in context. We are able to easily follow Marjane as she explores her philosophical interests, revolts against state, school and her mother, and dances to american pop rock, all the while learning about Iran of the 1980s.

Marjane confronts her peers talking about her.
The first part (referring to the the first volume of the English publication) ends with Marjane being sent to Vienna by her parents at the age of 14, where they feel she will be able to be happy. From this point on, and until she returns to Iran, Satrapi is less concerned with incorporating history and politics into her story than she is with her physical and emotional experiences. We follow her as she moves from apartment to apartment, starts doing drugs regularly, and has her first romantic encounters. This depart from her previous attention to history and politics is understandable, as her life in her teen years is mainly centred around her rapid personal growth in a new society, and is a reflection of the diminished need for attention to politics that this new society demanded. Instead, Satrapi focusses on the people of this new society, like her anarchist friends, and her disappointing boyfriends. However, Marjane never loses her proud and rebellious character, and even at the end of her stay in Vienna, sick and defeated as she is, she is poised to return to Tehran just as revolutionary as her child-self.

The doctor's warning to Marjane goes unleaded.
Once back in Iran, Marjane deals with an intense bout of depression before two failed suicide attempts push her to reshape her life. She eventually starts to date a man named Reza, who she eventually marries, and enrolls in university for art. During this time in Tehran, Marjane finds herself constantly at odds with the oppressive political regime in power in the 1990s, though not in the same way as her childhood. These battles are smaller, and more personal, and at the same time more ridiculous. Her physical appearance in public is subjected to constant scrutiny, as is her behaviour around her boyfriend, who she is not allowed to show any sort of affection towards. She and her friends are frequently arrested just for throwing parties, and are unable to study the figure in the nude in their anatomy classes. Marjane lives this way until she graduates university. Here, at the age of twenty-four, we come to the end of the story, where Marjane realizes that she no longer loves her husband of three years, asks for a divorce. She decides to move to France to escape the oppressive regime that she can no longer stand to live under, says goodbye to her home country, and leaves for the last time.

Satrapi speaks at great length about her relationship to Iran, even after having left it, in this interview with the educational website Asia Society, appropriately titled “I Will Always Be Iranian”. In the interview, she references the experiences she shares Persepolis, and talks about her ongoing connection with her home country.

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