Graphic novels are often passed over by traditional readers who prefer prose over pictures. However, from French writer Marjane Satrapi comes a comic that has attracted a whole new audience.
Through simple black and white picture boxes, “Persepolis” tells the story of a young girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Originally published in installments, the book was recently translated from French and combined into one volume by its English publisher Pantheon (famous for the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus”). Through its many translations, people around the world have come to appreciate the integrity of a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of intense modern history.
“Persepolis” follows the childhood and adolescence of its author, who was raised by liberal parents who encouraged her to learn and grow despite being a girl in an oppressive culture. Marjane discovers early on how to refuse to sacrifice her fiery self to the dominating forces that appear again and again throughout her life. As a girl in the Islamic Revolution, a teenager during Iran’s war with Iraq and a young adult in Vienna, Marjane faces similar lessons and conflicts, having to ultimately reconcile herself within her culture and the rest of the world. Out of a lifetime of harrowing circumstances comes a protagonist who refuses to become someone else at the whim of others, whether they are school teachers who punish her because her hair is peaking beneath her veil or pompous military officers who threaten to arrest her for listening to Iron Maiden.
Though the storyline might sound trite, the settings of war-torn Iran and dynamic 1980s Europe add perspective and depth to the story. The reader is shown exactly how an individual can refuse to succumb to the negative aspects of society and find her own way through the maze of history. Its simplicity conceals much depth.
Furthermore, the basic pictures add to the novel’s rich material. Instead of suffering through wordy explanation, the audience watches the novel happen, and each person is able to take away from it whatever he or she wants. The readers are witnesses to the characters’ history and world history at the same time; and there is no agenda, just a story.
“Persepolis” is the story of a real person, and we experience the bad times as well as the good. Marjane faces the violent death of loved ones under Iran’s Islamic regime, suffers intense loneliness after moving to Europe, and has to come to terms with bad decisions, even ending up homeless at one part of the novel.
She’s a real person, not a perfect protagonist. In spite of her intelligence, she makes stupid decisions, her loyal passions sometimes turn cruel, and her resilience is often clouded by hopelessness. Nevertheless, she is always genuine. The reader will attach his or herself to Marjane’s character and will always carry hope for her.
Even those not familiar with (or inclined to pick up) graphic novels will find a way to love this book. It reads easily and clearly, and most won’t mind that it isn’t composed in straight prose. The book has also spawned a film, which was recently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature – perhaps proof of its ability to appeal to a wide range of audiences. All in all, it’s a captivating story and a quick read that will gain the affection of even the pickiest of book lovers.
Emilie Egger is an English junior and Mustang Daily book columnist.