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A fascinating graphic novel about growing up during Iran's Islamic Revolution

Wednesday, May 28 2003
Marjane Satrapi was your typical 6-year-old: sassy, demanding, and full of good intentions. But unlike the average kid, she wanted to be a prophet. Her goal was to right all the wrongs in the world, like the fact that the family maid had to eat in another room and that her grandmother's knees ached. Growing up in Iran during the 1970s and '80s as the only child of Marxist intellectuals (and the great-granddaughter of one of the country's last emperors), Satrapi was always a bit different. She enjoyed the privileges of having educated, liberal parents, but their political views and status also made her family the target of government ire. Her tale is a remarkable one that could fill several books, the first of which is Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood.

Much like Art Spiegelman's landmark graphic novel Maus, Persepolis chronicles world events in comic-book form, not only describing but also illustrating the devastating toll of oppression and war. A fascinating portrait of growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Persepolis is told from the point of view of the spirited young Marjane, who interprets history with the simple wonder of a child. "Then came 1980: the year it became obligatory to wear the veil at school," she writes. "We didn't really like to wear the veil, especially since we didn't understand why we had to." The minimalist black-and-white drawings that accompany Satrapi's straightforward words are equally gripping. For example, one picture portrays a girl running around a playground without her scarf, yelling, "It's too hot out," while two others act out a make-believe strangling: "Execution in the name of freedom."

Satrapi's coming-of-age was marked by the fall of the Shah's regime and the rise of fundamentalism: At age 10, she was forced to leave her coeducational French school to attend a unisex one, and her favorite uncle was put to death for being a spy. During the war with Iraq, dodging missiles and enduring air raids became commonplace. In spite of such extraordinary circumstances, she grew up to be a rebellious and outspoken teen, begging her parents to buy her Nike sneakers, a Michael Jackson pin, and posters of Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden. The book ends on a heartbreaking note, when her parents send the 14-year-old Marjane to Vienna because they fear for her safety.

Satrapi now lives in Paris, where she's working on a sequel to Persepolis. She wrote the illustrated memoir to preserve her family history and to clear up widespread misconceptions about her native land, a timely goal given that Iran has been targeted as one-third of Bush's "axis of evil." "This old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth," she notes. "This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me."

About The Author

Lisa Hom


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