Plot Summary: Persepolis is a graphic novel telling the story of author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood and adolescence in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s. The English translation was originally released in two volumes in 2003 and 2004; in 2007, The Complete Persepolis included both volumes under one cover.
Ms. Satrapi’s story begins with her childhood and the progressive education she received in a non-religious French school until 1980, when boys and girls were separated and the girls began wearing veils. She remembers seeing her mother protesting at anti-fundamentalist demonstrations and recalls the desire to grow up and be a revolutionary; she also remembers her conversations with God. She provides eyewitness accounts of the violence in Iran, which took the lives of neighbors, family friends, and some who were just home at the wrong time.
When Marjane turned 14, her parents sent her to Austria, hoping to give their daughter a better life. Originally expected to live with her mother’s best friend, Marjane goes through a series of homes and personality conflicts, falls in with a group of pampered, post-modern intellectuals who have no concept – or interest – in Marjane’s reality. She ultimately ends up living on the street and becoming ill before returning to a fundamentalist Iran at age 18. No longer connecting with her friends or family, she experiences a bout of depression. She works through her years in Vienna, recreates herself, and marries a fellow university student by age 21. The marriage fades quickly, and they ultimately divorce. Marjane realizes that she needs to leave Iran once again, this time for France to continue her education in 1994.
Critical Evaluation: The graphic novel is a great way of telling complex stories. In Persepolis, Ms. Satrapi weaves together many different threads using narrative and art – the story of a girl growing up; the history of Iran; the fear of daily life under fundamentalist rule; the pain of being separated from one’s family and in a different culture, a different world from the familiar.
Marjane is a smart young girl who, from an early age, told things as she saw them. Her intelligent, politically aware parents made sure she understood what was going on around her at a very young age; this would later allow her to communicate with a younger and older audiences alike. Her voice rings clearly throughout the text and the artwork and allows readers to understand an often complex back story of a nation by making the story personal.
Awards and Recognition: A New York Times Notable Book; Time Magazine “Best Comix of the Year”, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Best-seller; American Library Association (ALA) Alex Award.
Reviews: Oxonian Review of Books, Oxford College: “While Persepolis’ feistiness and creativity pay tribute as much to Satrapi herself as to contemporary Iran, if her aim is to humanise her homeland, this amiable, sardonic and very candid memoir couldn’t do a better job.”
Time Magazine: “… sometimes funny and sometimes sad but always sincere and revealing.”
Reader’s Annotation: Marjane Satrapi grew up in Iran during a time of revolution – a time most people only saw on television. What she saw and experienced changed her forever.
Author Information: Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born writer and artist currrently living in France. Her autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis, has also been made into an animated film that shared a Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award in 2008. Her biography page on Random House’s website tells readers about her other graphic novels, her thoughts on Persepolis, and prompts visitors to sign up for author alerts.
Genre Information: Graphic novel, biography, nonfiction, multiculturalism. Subgenres include families and war/conflict.
Booktalking Ideas: Think about your life now: you can do almost anything you want to; dress however you want; be friends with whomever you want. Now, imagine one day, having all of that change. Imagine if you were told you couldn’t be friends with someone because they weren’t the same sex as you; you couldn’t wear your favorite jeans and t-shirts any more; you weren’t allowed to listen to your favorite music anymore. How would that make you feel? Would you leave your family behind if you had the chance to escape that?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-18+
Challenge Issues/Defense: Overall content/language – hints at sexual activity, drug use, war-related violence. Defense: This is an inside view of what went on in Iran in the years after the Shah fell and the Ayatollah Khomeni took over. We saw part of it play out on the news, but this is the story of a person’s life in Iran during that time. It’s not a glorification of any behavior nor is it depicted as glamourous.
Why did you include this book in you’re the titles you selected?
This is an award-winning graphic novel that happens to be a nonfiction/autobiographical piece. It speaks to a time in history that I remember seeing on the news as a child, so it interested me. I need to read more multicultural titles, as I live in a diverse community and want to connect with my neighbors better; the first step is in understanding some of their backgrounds.