Writer(s): Marjane Satrapi.
Artist(s): Marjane Satrapi.
Letterer(s): Céline Merrien.
Release Date: March 6th, 2008 (first published 2003).
Genre(s): Comics, Autobiography, Memoir.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Is free will really a thing? There are countless incidents throughout history that highlight the fragility of humanity and the illusion of free will through sacrilegious use of religion and power. While many political actors have disguised their intentions through blasphemous manipulation of human consciousness, especially by using religion as a tool of social isolation and discrimination, its impact is often overlooked on an individual level. Take a child growing up in the middle of a tense and alarming revolution. How does one adapt to its unstable environment, construct its identity, or adapt to the norms of society, if they aren’t allowed to choose who they want to be? Originally written in French and sold in four distinct volumes before being published in English, Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi and unveils her experience from childhood to adulthood pre-, peri-, and post-Islamic Revolution.
What is Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return about? Split into two parts—essentially two books—the story follows the young, attentive, and outspoken girl Marjane Satrapi. Child of radical Marxists and great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor, she witnesses the rise and fall of regimes through the uprising of a population and attempts to understand herself as an agent of freedom in the chaos ensued by a perverted manipulation of religion. Growing up, she experiences the contradictions of her life, permeating through multiple generations, and learns from the countless mistakes she involuntarily makes. From growing up in Iran and visiting Vienna, she is led to opening her eyes at the flagrant cultural divergences that exist within her hometown.
Marjane Satrapi’s experiences in the midst of the Islamic Revolution in Iran is awe-inspiring. It tragically captures the repercussions of war on the people while shedding light on the various misconstructions by the population, especially religious extremists. While her life story is one encapsulating both humour and tragedy, it remains a chain of catastrophes, one after the other. Where her story succeeds in delivering the historical events while also focusing on the internal conflict pervading her upbringing is in her ability to showcase the effect of the social and political landscapes on individuals. Touching upon a myriad of themes still significantly relevant today, from violence to sexuality, she brilliantly conveys the ludicrous toll of war on the life of individuals. Marjane Satrapi remains a perfect vessel to examine this period in history as she illustrates the complexity of her identity through innumerable factors that are beyond her grasp while filtering it through the eyes of honesty and rationality.
Drawn in a black and white caricatural artistic style, Marjane Satrapi quickly establishes its purpose to steer away from any criticism on the artwork. It is understood that it comes second to the written word and only serves as a medium to portray her dichotomic life under an oppressive regime that bans her of her most basic rights as a citizen, a human being, and as a woman. Utilizing a traditional square panel configuration, she also limits her creativity to focus on the narration and dialogue bubbles. Whether they are comical or critical, the weight of every word is accentuated by thoughts and discourses that help give each panel a certain significance. In fact, Marjane Satrapi doesn’t only want to draw what she experienced but wishes to also illustrate a metaphorical edge through images that help better understand the emotions felt by her past self. Through the dyadic imagery, she is able to reproduce the infinite clashes she’s known throughout her childhood and adulthood, e.g. man vs. woman, personal vs. public, peace vs. terror, or even hero vs. sinner.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return is an eye-opening account of a child growing up within an oppressive regime and trying to make sense of her life under the weight of politics, religion, and fear.
The animated movie adaptation of this graphic novel was released in 2007 and co-won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.