My co-worker who reads comics came to me with a suggestion for two graphic novels she read as a class assignment in high school. Described to me as the story of a young girl in early 1980’s Iran who struggles with politics and expectations of women, but grows up and becomes punk, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi sounded like a story I’d be interested in reading. The fact that it is a memoir was even better.
What do you know about the Islamic Revolution? I can’t say I remember learning much in AP European History, but Persepolis does a great job of explaining what I doubt any boring textbook would tell. Inside the cover are black and white strips sharing the voice of Marji, a loud and stubborn ten-year-old who questions everything. She is well-educated, having at least 5 years of education in a French school, and is instilled with a great sense of religion. Her parents spoke out during the revolution but not so much that they were jailed, though throughout both Persepolis stories, the thought of speaking one’s mind and not following the crowd left many of their close friends and family members in prison for many years. Marji was sure she would become the first prophet of the revolution and used every moment she could to fight the regime in her own ways.
Each page of Persepolis teaches you about American freedoms through the eyes of those who have much less. Could you imagine growing up in classrooms segregated by gender, not allowed to be seen in public with men you are not married to, having to abide by evening curfews? Marji nor her parents could blindly follow what they were being told. Opposition came in the form of letting a few strands of hair slide out of your veil and for men to have shaved faces with moustaches instead of the fundamentalist thick beard. But Marji ached for more. When she becomes a teenager, tragic bombings and riots just blocks from her home are constants and caused most of Marji’s friends and family to flee Iran. And at the end, Marji leaves, too.
If Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is about innocent hope and faith for a resolution, Persepolis: The Story of a Return is about coming of age and finding oneself in a foreign country. When Marji finds herself far away from the country she was so used to rebelling against, she quickly begins that rite of passage to find who she truly believes she could be in a world where she is encouraged to speak her mind, make new friends and relationships and unite under a common bond of freedom. From taking on a punk look with friends who smoke and drink and party, Marji begins to bottoms out, losing that hope and fight that kept her true and strong. A reuniting visit with her parents prepares her to come back to Iran and face the fears and struggles of the country she never completely left behind.
Language explaining totalitarianism and the war complicate the message, but I would say any teenager should pick up both books for an accurate history lesson taught through Marji. Surprises come along in the way of friendships and socially embarrassing situations many can relate to, making Persepolis an all-around honest, heart-wrenching read.