Marjane Satrapi is perhaps best known for being the protagonist in the movie, Persepolis, based on her own life. Persepolis, literally meaning a town in Iran (ancient Persia), near Shiraz, is originally an autobiography of Marjane. The form is that of a graphic novel (black and white cartoon strips if you will), a growingly popular style in literature.
Like the name suggests, the book traces Marjane’s life through the years and the difficult times during the Iranian Revolution (1979). She is born to revolutionary agnostic parents, who protest against the tyrannical government and do their best to inculcate in Marjane the same values. Marjane lives in a close-knit family comprising her parents and grandmother, and is perhaps closest to her grandmother. The recurring theme in Persepolis is the precocious curiosity that Marjane has towards life. She is not someone who sits by and accepts the imposition of the veil, or can live with the restrictions that the new regime had bought about. She, like every other child, wanted her freedom, wanted to be curious, and most of all, wanted answers to what is happening around her. To control the Communist revolutionaries’ protests, the government resorted to bombing entire streets. It was due to having a close shave with the bombings and the fact that all French schools were shut down that Marjane was sent to school in Austria by her parents to escape the hegemonic regime prevalent in Iran by acquiring a sound education. Her story moves on from there, a story of misguided love, a story of mistaken identity and pangs of guilt.
What is perhaps most striking about the book are the illustrations. The simplicity and lucidity attacks you, and leaves you wounded. Her story is a common one, it invokes reactions from all of us who have had to choose between passions, have had to face confines in life or have used escapism as a means to protect ourselves. And yet, there is something so non-contrived about Persepolis that it will move you, make you cry and laugh, all at the same time!
The issues that Marjane raises are omnipresent, yet very difficult to resolve. The issue of female liberation, for instance, is a gnawing one, especially in Asian countries. She stands up against all of the ridiculous measures imposed by the then government and strives to become a free-thinker. There is also a question of returning to where you belong, not forgetting your roots. It is difficult and painful for Marjane to leave her homeland, and yet she wants to leave her tumultuous past behind and move with her life, while taking on a French identity.
Persepolis is a hauntingly beautiful novel that stays with you for days after you read it. It makes you question, and introspect on the little things that make up life as we know it. A coming of age novel that would leave an impression on you, that’s Persepolis.