Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Set in Tehran, Iran, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood uses a black and white graphic novel format to narrate Marjane Satrapi’s childhood from age ten to fourteen. In the introduction, Satrapi makes clear that her memoir is designed to counter the discussion of Iranians as fundamentalists, fantasists, and terrorists. She says that by having lived in Iran for more than half her life she knows that “this image is far from the truth.”
Compared to the graphics of Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samanci, Satrapi’s black and white drawings appear simplistic. They are actually quite complex. As she describes the sudden requirement to wear the veil, she illustrates a frame dividing an image of herself: One side has gears, a ruler, an engineering tool with a simply dressed half-girl while the other depicts her other half veiled and with curlicues in the background (5). The lack of color illustrations does not detract from the author’s childhood imagination. She describes her vocation as that of prophet by the age of six (5); she studies and creates rules for her religion and explains her conversations with God, honestly admitting “I felt guilty towards God” when she lies to her parents about wanting to be a doctor instead of a prophet, a job not suited for a girl (9).
Satrapi describes how easily she was swayed to harm others (“In the name of the dead million, we’ll each Ramin a good lesson” (45)) and how society contradicted itself (“But she was the one who told us that the shah was chosen by God!” she says when told to rip the shah’s photo from the textbook (44)). What is interesting (and quite confusing) is that Satrapi is the great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor (flyleaf). Her parents are Marxists and know many revolutionaries who face prison, exile, and death (such as her Uncle Anoosh (54)). The refrains “too much” and “overwhelmed” haunt the text (54, 80, 83), and one must wonder how much terror, paranoia, and euphoria a person can handle. Satrapi’s child often sees and hears what she probably should not, but seen through her child’s mind we see just how stressful these years were even if the child Satrapi did not.
Persepolis does not have the color of Dare to Disappoint, but it is no less an important graphic memoir. Satrapi uses her story to show readers what she saw and heard as a child and to demonstrate that not all (not even very many in her neighborhood) Iranians are the fundamentalists, fantasists, or terrorists western media portrays them as.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon, 2003.