“Nothing’s worse than saying goodbye. It’s a little like dying.”
I’ve been dying to read Persepolis for a while. I saw and loved the movie and managed to sneak-read an excerpt of it at a friend’s party, but I never got to actually sit down and read it. As someone who doesn’t typically like graphic novels, I have to say that Persepolis is an engrossing, engaging and unbelievable memoir written by the Iranian Marjane Satrapi. It’s the best book that I’ve read since discovering “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” last year.
The story begins in her childhood. Despite her conservative society, Marjane is lucky enough to be the daughter of well-educated, loving, and encouraging parents who nurture her independent and questioning nature. They give her comic books about famous philosophers and speak to her like she is an adult about the shah, imperialism, and her family that is in prison.
At some point in her early childhood, Marjane decides it is her destiny to be a prophet and has nightly discussions with God before she goes to sleep. She wants to be a prophet because “our maid did not eat with us, because my father had a Cadillac, and above all because my Grandmother’s knees always ached.”
After the shah is overthrown, an Islamic Republic takes power and starts a war with Iraq. Society in Iran is changing, where men threaten women who don’t wear veils, where young boys are given plastic “keys to heaven” and then sent to the front lines of war, and where an outspoken and independent girl like Marjane is not safe. Her parents finally send her out of the country, to Vienna, to finish her education.
The freedom she experiences in Vienna is tempered by her extreme isolation in the crowd of spoiled children who think war and death are exciting and who never had to fight for their rights. Even more difficult for her, Marjane is thrust into puberty without her mother or grandmother to guide her and aimlessly experiments with drugs, sex and alcohol. After a particularly painful experience, Marjane chooses to return to her repressive country to be with people who love her and then has to grapple with her deep identity crisis as she has to again conform to another society’s expectations.
Persepolis is engaging from the first sentence, and I devoured the whole book in a few hours. The book radiates the love Marjane feels for her family while having to make the difficult choice of staying in Iran with them, or leaving her family to pursue her own life. It’s no easy choice, Marjane points out at the end of her book, “Freedom had a price”.