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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: 'Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood' by Marjane Satrapi

A couple of weeks ago, I had to read this graphic novel for my Literature for Children and Young Adults class. I had to do a bit of train travelling that weekend, which is always ideal when I need to read something because there little else I can do to keep myself occupied on a train but read and write. Once I started reading, I didn't want to put it down. The story, the characters, the setting, and the events were just so engrossing.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is part 1 of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel memoir about growing up in Tehran, Iran, during the overthrowing of the Shah's regime, the Islamic revolution, and the war with Iraq. It is a true story about growing up surrounded by conflict in many forms, including forms I hope to never truly understand because of how horrific war can be, and forms that can relate to a universal audience. As well as growing up trying to rebel against regimes and revolutions and wars, we are being presented with a girl as she grows from age 6 to 14, who rebels against her parents and teachers and the never-ending struggle to fit in whilst still being herself: universal issues that a very large audience can relate to.

As a memoir, the story is told completely through Marji's young eyes as a strict, violent, and scary world unfolds around her and she learns to understand it. Marji aside, my favourite character was her uncle Anoosh, who told her stories about his life: his involvement in making Azerbaijan an independent state, his time in the U.S.S.R, his failed attempt at smuggling himself back into Iran and the resulting time in prison. He was a brave and honest character who had a great affinity with Marji and they seemed to understand each other more than anyone else in the book.

As a result, my favourite part of the book was the sixteen pages where he was present and interacting with Marji. His involvement in Marji's life warmed my heart, and at the end, it took all of that warmth and froze it into a giant ice block and then smashed it on the ground and let it melt. I might have actually gotten a little emotional towards the end of the section with Anoosh, feeling Marji's pain.

This graphic novel was set in Tehran, Iran, during a time of great conflict. While I started the book with only a vague understanding of what to expect, I finished the book with a much better idea of what that time and place was like, especially for a young girl. I was taught what I needed to know to understand the book through the comics, and the pictures helped that process along. It was interesting to learn about the place Marji lived at the time she lived there, growing up.

I loved Satrapi's style because it was honest and really got into the voice of the character at the different ages she is present at. As a graphic novel, the writing consisted mostly of dialogue in speech bubbles and important narration in boxes at the top or bottom of the frame. Because of this style of writing, we learn and understand things in the text at the same level that Marji does.

This is a refugee story in the end, but what makes it different is that it doesn't focus on Marji getting out of Iran, but instead it focuses on the lead-up so that the reader cannot fault the reasons. I love that by making this choice, Satrapi has been able to enlighten the reader about the amount of truth, or lack thereof, in the common stereotypes surrounding the western ideas of what Iranians and living in Iran must be like, smashing many of the common misconception. The other thing that made this book different to other refugee books was that in the end, she didn't have to illegally smuggle herself out of the country and get on a boat all sneaky-like; she just got on a plane and went to Austria and that's only at the very end of the book. While it is a turning point, it's not focused on for chapters and chapters and dragged out.

Overall, I just really loved this book. I found it moving and insightful. I take pride in not believing stereotypes and generalities about people from certain place or religions etc, but this book taught me a few things that I didn't know and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it when a book does that.

Have you read (or seen the movie) 'Persepolis'? What did you think?

- Bonnee.

4 comments:

  1. I have not seen it or read it. It sounds pretty interesting. But here's a question: is it a novelization, or a memoir? Should it be properly called a graphic memoir instead of graphic novel?

    I'm mostly joking. I do like learning about other cultures, which is part of what I enjoyed about The God of Small Things. I would also recommend books by Khaled Hosseini. He's written some great books set against the backdrop of Afghanistan during the time of the Soviet occupation and after, during Taliban rule.

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    1. Ah, I guess if we wanted to create a category that covered all bases then graphic memoir might be correct haha.

      I'll keep that name in mind. I've read a couple of books set in Afghanistan, 'Boy Overboard' by Morris Gleitzman and 'The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-sharif' by Najaf Mazari. Very interesting books. I love learning about different places and cultures, and their histories.

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  2. About two years ago I participated in a book club event at out Public Library where we read and discussed PERSEPOLIS. I don't recall much of the story but can easily pick it up again from Wikipedia. What amazed me was your sentence in the fourth section.
    "His involvement in Marji's life warmed my heart .... it took all that warmth and froze it into a giant ice block and then smashed it on the ground and let it melt."
    Like a poetry. Maybe you can insert this image and sentence in one of your novels.

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  3. That line does not nearly justify the way the book made me feel in the particular section I was referring to, but I'm glad you thought that it was poetic. Thanks for visiting, Giora! :)

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