Here’s a rare exaple of me: 1) breaking my book buying ban for something that isn’t a book club choice and 2) reading the new book within 6 months of acquiring it. Persepolis had been on my radar for ages and I definitely planned to read it at some point. I saw it was on sale and, in a mindless act of self indulgence, I bought it and read it. I know, I can be wild like that.
Although my edition looks like a standard paperback, this is very much still a graphic novel. It’s a good stealth graphic novel that you can read on the train with impunity, safe in the knowledge that people who judge others for reading graphic novels will not be able to get to you. That said, even if they did, and even if you cared if they did (which you definitely should not) this would be exactly the kind of book that you could claim, “might surprise them.”
Persepolis is the autobiography of Marjane Satrapi, from her early childhood in 1970s Iran to her adulthood. She describes living with her family in Iran during and after the revolution, as well as her years spent in Vienna, where her parents sent her to school, largely for her own safety. She returns and marries, but the marriage doesn’t work and she eventually moves back to Europe, this time settling in Paris.
The first book (my edition contained both Book 1 and Book 2) focuses on Marjane’s childhood, up to the age of about 14. The second book focuses on her mid-teens and early adulthood. I found the contrast between the aspects of her life that were very normal, to those which very much were not, quite interesting. Growing up in Iran during the revolution, and then living so far away from her family during her teenage years, must have been strange and difficult, but a lot of the time she seems to be a very ordinary girl, doing very ordinary girl things. Notwithstanding trying to become a revolutionary, of course.
I don’t often read graphic novels, although I do tend to enjoy them when I do. This one, I found particularly easy to follow and I really liked the paired-back artistic style. Satrapi keeps things simple with black and white drawings, and yet manages to convey the full story and the emotions of the characters effectively. I wonder how well this will be conveyed in the movie, which obviously I now have to watch.
The book made me want to know more about Iran and surely the sign of a good book is that it makes you want to know more about a subject. It also made me want to visit Iran, which is somewhat frustrating because I’m nowhere near brave enough to attempt that any time soon. I don’t know whether the intention of the book was to normalise the country, but if it was, I think that for many readers, the attempt may be successful. It’s certainly a very human novel, and even manages humour despite the sometimes dark subject matter.