February 26, 2009

Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis

When I signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge at the beginning of this year, I chose the smallest goal possible: 6 books. I'd not read a graphic novel before and had no idea how long each would take or if I'd even enjoy them. Here it is not even 2 months into the challenge, and I've already completed my 4th. Ranging from the 153 page Persepolis to the 612 page The Absolute Sandman, Vol.1 , none of these books have taken me more than a week. That's not bragging, I suspect it's just the nature of this genre. Add to that the pretty amazing storytelling and I just may be hooked. I must say, though, that I've enjoyed the black and white, artsy-fartsy ones (Persepolis, It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and Louis Riel) better than the colour, comic-looking one (The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1). Just two months in, four books down and I'm already turning into a graphic novel snob.

Persepolis is also my third book about 20th century Iran. The first was Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter and the second was Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. All memoirs, too. Anyone know any other Iranian books? Perhaps an Iranian challenge is in order. I only wish I could find one told from a male perspective for a change.

Persepolis is probably the funniest of the three Iranian books mentioned above. It's just as graphic (well, more so, I guess), but Satrapi's humour adds a much needed balance. Not only does it provide relief to the reader but reflects the fun times that had to break through all the oppression. When you set out to read books like this you always anticipate being disgusted with mankind ("how can one person do that to another?" etc) but time and time again they make me feel more optimistic than defeated. If the human spirit can be strong enough not only endure such hardships but actually have laughter as well, well that makes me feel all warm and giddy inside.

A favourite scene involves Satrapi being stopped by two women of the "Guardians of the Revolution" for wearing Nike shoes, denim, and a Michael Jackson button. There was a very real risk she'd be arrested and possibly whipped for her appearance. When questioned about the button, Satrapi says it's actually "Malcolm X, the leader of black Muslims in America." The caption at the bottom of the frame says, "Back then, Michael Jackson was still black."

I also enjoyed the artwork, especially the scenes in which she stressed repetition: soldiers, groups of girls covered in veils, protesters and the dead. Virtually cloning the people, Satrapi was able to make many strong statements using one single technique.

The real highlight of the book, however, was the precociousness of child Satrapi. She is such a lovable, smart, and melodramatic little girl that I wonder if the sequel, featuring a teenage Satrapi, will be as appealing.

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