By Snow Drift
Persepolis is written by Marjane Satrapi and originally published by French comic book publisher L’Association in four volumes between the years 2000 and 2003. The comic is the autobiographical graphic novel of the author’s life, first during the Islamic revolution in Iran, and later during Iran’s war against Iraq. I’ll be dividing these reviews according to the two-volume version, published by Random House: Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.
A particularly fascinating aspect of the graphic novel is its art style. It’s very simplistic, with basic use of black and white and avoiding any aspect of natural shading or lightening. However, the way that Satrapi implements this style is enough to express the emotional narrative of each scene. The cartoonish style gives Satrapi the opportunity to portray comedic scenes with exaggerated facial expressions or physical movements, sentimental and gentle ones with a simplistic visual imagery of emotional responses, and horrific ones as well. The lack of blood and gore helps the reader prioritize the person itself. It’s within these fundamental aspects of the drawings, where the author avoids displaying background details, which helps the reader pay attention to the main events and characters of the scenes. Satrapi avoids distractions, putting her message front and center for all of the readers of her work.
The narrative style and the dialogue are major factors in the plot of the graphic novel. Each chapter is made to demonstrate the development of the characters and of Iran. It’s straight to the point, avoiding distractions to the story. Random events in the author’s life, even if they had an impact on her, are not a priority to the narrative of the story. Like its art style, the story has no subtly, symbolism, or metaphorical aspects to it; Satrapi wants the reader clearly see the conditions of her life and of her country. Its content is raw and the dialogue was written in just the right way to not only demonstrate simply the point of the characters’ messages, but to also distinguish each character as unique. Just like the art, there is no decorative aspect to the plot.
Although this is an autobiographical graphic novel, Satrapi doesn’t entirely concentrate on herself. The story also explores her family and Iran. Her uncle Anoosh, her grandfather, and even her maid Mehri are not only influences in the author’s development, but they are also their own people, demonstrating the horror, injustices, and repression of Iran’s society during the 1980s. The pasts of the country and of the individuals, play an important role in Iran’s current state of affairs, and of Satrapi, who grew up with a historical, religious, political, and societal baggage on her shoulders, which is further explored in her second book, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Since Satrapi is a child for most of the first book, she perceived the world as a child would. Everything seemed black and white, good and evil easily discernible. However, the horrors she witnesses will lead her to understand that the world is made of shades of grey, and that good people don’t always triumph. By the end of this first book, Satrapi has a keen understanding of what is true injustice and suffering, and won’t merely repeat what other adults tell her about Iran and the world.
Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood successfully portrays groundwork from which Satrapi had to stand on during a time that should’ve been of innocence. The heavy political and horror-filled atmosphere that she lived through will follow her throughout her life, especially when she confronts other cultures and their prejudiced view of her culture.