Books often explore stories from the other side. Wicked tells us the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. Grendel tells us Beowulf's nemesis's side of things. And we're still waiting for a book on Gargamel to tell us why the guy hates Smurfs so much.
Persepolis is no different.
It tells a first-hand account of what it was like to be raised in Iran. Unfortunately, we live in a world (especially post-9/11) that considers Iran and Iranians in general to be "the bad guys." Reading what it's like to grow up in Iran is like reading what it's like to grow up as a young stormtrooper on the Death Star.
Unlike the Death Star, Iran isn't actually evil—the people who run the country are. (Who knows, maybe the Death Star is just misunderstood, too… ) Iran's citizens are people of the world just like us and, just like us, they want to listen to music, hang out with friends, and party. Many of them don't want to wear head-to-toe religious garments any more than you'd want to wear jean shorts in December.
Marjane Satrapi grew up in Iran just as things started getting bad. Students were segregated by gender lines, women's rights receded faster than the polar ice caps, and family members were executed simply because they were suspected to be spies. It's a rough time to grow up there, to say the least, but Marjane not only survives protests and bombings—she moves to Vienna, then back to Iran, and then manages to leave again. All that insight gives us a pretty fascinating story.
Satrapi wrote Persepolis in 2000. Well, maybe we should say she drew it in 2000. It's a graphic novel—which is more or less the literary term for comic book—and, as such, uses pictures alongside words to tell its story. In France, where Satrapi lives, Persepolis was published in four volumes. In the U.S., it was released as two. Newsweek ranked Persepolis the #5 book of the decade. Of the decade. Later, The Complete Persepolis put the whole story in one convenient paperback volume to celebrate the release of the film.
That's right: film. Persepolis was made into an animated film in 2007. It featured the voices of Catherine Deneuve (in France) and punk rock icon Iggy Pop (in English), and lost to Ratatouille in the Best Animated Feature Film category of the Academy Awards. (Maybe Marjane Satrapi now hates rats as much as Tom from Tom and Jerry does…) Just as Persepolis proves that comics can be literature, the movie shows us that not all cartoons are Looney Tunes and Dragonball Z.
Just as you shouldn't judge a (comic) book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a person by their clothing (unless they are wearing jean shorts in December. That's weird for so many reasons). Pick up a copy of Persepolis and learn how other people live from someone who lived it.
Hey, you. Stop looking at those selfies you posted to Instagram last week and take a minute to read this:
It's pretty easy to get too wrapped up in your own life to care about what else is going on in the world. How are you supposed to find time to think about things like equality and politics in your own country, much less what is happening elsewhere, when you're completely caught up in your own life and what your friends (and enemies) think of you?
You could step back and look at the world every now and then to get some perspective. A good way to get a different view of the world is to ask someone else his or her opinion. Reading Persepolis is like getting to sit down with Marjane Satrapi and ask her, what was life like in Iran?
Reading Persepolis is an eye-opening experience, especially if you've only swallowed media propaganda that has led you to believe that Iran is the enemy and all Iranians are trying to kill us. This couldn't be further from the truth, and there are plenty of folks living in Iran who aren't all that happy with their living situation either. They used to be able to listen to music. Boys used to be able to chat with girls in public. They used to go to parties. But they can't anymore, because of their uber-crazy fundamentalist religious regime. (Sound familiar?)
Persepolis shows us the danger of letting the opinions of very few dictate the behavior of many. On top of that is the fact that everyone has a story, and not everyone in a country is exactly the same.
The publisher's website has more links, questions, and extras than you can shake a hijab at.
The Story of an Author
Here you can read a bit more about Marjane Satrapi's background and even see a picture of her rocking an awesome Amy Winehouse-esque beehive hairstyle.
The animated version of Persepolis sets the art of the graphic novel into motion. It also set tons of awards in the arms of Marjane Satrapi and her co-director/-writer Vincent Paronnaud.
One Thumb Up
Ebert liked the movie back when it came out in 2008, and he even briefly shares his own experience in Iran in the late 1970s (he gives that a thumbs up, too).
Smoking and Chatting
Satrapi sits down with a cigarette (if you're concerned about second-hand smoke, don't worry: she's on the other end of a phone line) and chats about her life, her work, and her future.
Black and White and Read All Over
The world is more than just black or white (or fifty shades of gray): there's a lot of nuance, and that's what Persepolis is all about. In this interview (which, ironically, is black text on a white screen) Satrapi talks about the nuances of her story.
"Be careful—you might start considering the Iranian people human beings."
Persepolis is super dangerous to America… at least that's what Stephen Colbert said on the Colbert Report in 2008.
Autobiography or Reality?
Is there a difference between telling a true story and making an autobiography or documentary? Marjane Satrapi addresses this question and others, like the "mess" of making a comic into a cartoon (her words, not ours).
Marjane has a voice (obviously) but she doesn't voice herself in the movie. This interview with the voice actress reveals the woman who plays Marjane in the movie. Do you think they are similar?
Oh Say Can You Hear
There's a pivotal scene in the book when Marji hears the National Anthem of Iran on the radio. Take a listen. It has to be better than the new government's Islamic hymn that was forced upon them.
Fresh Iranian Air
Marjane Satrapi chatted with Terry Gross back in 2003 about her graphic novel, the veil, and war. You know, your typical childhood story.
Set in Stone
This is what remains of the ancient city of Persepolis. Could Marjane's clean art style have been inspired by the carvings on the wall?