Friday, January 29, 2010

The Complete Persepolis

Week 4 Memoir

By Marjane Satrapi
New York, Pantheon, 2003-2004

Before I begin my discussion of this book which touched my heart greatly, I have to say that I am still haunted by the book I read over the weekend, American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I have thought about the characters numerous times and told several people about the book and the author. While still absorbing that book, I read Persepolis and my thoughts have been haunted by this book as well. I am not sure how the women who blogged about a book a day did it. How did they survive the emotional ups and downs of being engrossed in a book.
While on that subject, I read this morning the column in the Wall Street Journal called "Dear Book Lover" by Cynthia Crossen. It appears every Friday. In today’s column, someone asked her how she continues to read as much as she does. What are her techniques? Here is her advice:
“Three bits of advice for those who want to read more: Buy or borrow books that look appealing to you, not books you think you ought to read. Make sure you always have a book in easy reach. Most important, try to find a place where you can be alone and quiet for a few minutes a day with nothing to distract you but the treasure in your hands.” And I would add for myself, decide that reading is an important activity that you need to do to keep yourself up-to-date and to keep your mind and heart full. For years, I have felt guilty when I immersed myself in a book—“There must be something more important that I should be doing!” This exercise I am involved in this year is an attempt to move beyond that type of thinking. Reading is important for my existence.

Now on to Persepolis. First of all, you need to know that this is a memoir in “graphic novel” style. It is like reading an extended comic book. I found it an ideal format to tell the surreal coming-of-age of an Iranian girl growing up during the war with Iraq and then surviving in revolutionary Iran (1976-1990 approx.). The book was originally published in two volumes; the one I read combines both parts of the story.
The graphic format makes the story more dramatic and important than it would have been in written form. The revolutionary guards are more menacing, Marjane’s antics funnier, and her reliance upon God (who looks like Marx) more poignant. When events made it impossible for Marjane to go to school and get an adequate education in Tehran, her parents send her to Austria to a French-speaking school where she failed to thrive. The second part of the book relates the story of her return to her family in Iran, her university training as a graphic designer, her marriage, divorce, and return to Europe, where she has remained. The New York Times book review says, “Persepolis dances with drama and insolent wit.”
My favorite parts of Marjane’s childhood are when she pretends to be a revolutionary…a Marxist, a leftist like her mother. Her rebellion gets her into lots of trouble, but she is secure in the knowledge that her parents support her insolence and rebellion. Yet, she also wants to be a prophet, and she crawls into the arms of God when the world closes in upon her.
The reviewer in the New York Review of Books says: “That Persepolis 1, a book in which it is almost impossible to find an
image distinguished enough to consider an independent piece of visual art, and equally difficult to find a sentence which in itself surpasses the serviceable, emerges as a work so fresh, absorbing, and memorable is an extraordinary achievement.”

Persepolis 1 was turned into a French language animated movie called Persepolis, which won the 2008 Oscar for Best Animated Film as well as the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and numerous other awards. (We are watching it this weekend.)

This is a book I can highly recommend.

Here is some biographical information about Marjane Satrapi.

Here is an interview with Satrapi:

Here is the New York Times review:

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