by Snow Drift
Persepolis, an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi and originally published by the French comic book publisher L’Association, concentrated on Satrapi’s life during the Islamic revolution in Iran and later its war against Iraq. Previously, I had reviewed the first English volume of the series: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood; however, it is my pleasure to present my review of Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.
While the first book centered itself on the injustice, repression, and violence in Iran and how this affected the growth of Satrapi in an episodic manner; the second graphic novel concentrates on Satrapi’s personal life in her years away from her home country. However, this does not mean that Iran and Satrapi’s family did not influence her during her teenage years and early adulthood. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return gives a more personal and intimate factor to Satrapi that indirectly, in one way or another, involves Iran.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return blossoms from Satrapi having to live in Austria as a foreigner. Adolescence settles into Satrapi’s life and puzzling terms like her identity and sexuality linger in the background. It is during these years that teenagers feel the most vulnerable, for they become extremely aware of the social structure surrounding them, and the need to be accepted by friends and family arises. Satrapi was no different. She felt inadequate with herself. Satrapi wished to belong, but the constant discrimination and racist remarks thrown at her did not help her self-esteem.
Marjane Satrapi, struggling against peer pressure and in the pursuit of love, had to endure suffering in the form of insufficiency. Away from any familiar consolation, Satrapi had to withstand isolated, which led her to a more independent and introverted lifestyle. She was forced to live a life frustrated and angry at the injustice in the world. And it is because of her social conscience that Satrapi got involved in the Iranian Society, instead of just being an observer; not only does she become a voice against the atrocities happening in Ian, but an active agent.
During her teenage years, friendship, romance and parenthood become important aspects of Satrapi’s life. They are a glimpse on how the world works and how she, as an individual, fits into the world. Readers are given the chance to witness Satrapi’s jealousy, depression, anger, and happiness throughout her interactions. Satrapi slowly begins to understand the differences between people and the characteristics that make their actions either praise-worthy or shameful. But above all the injustices, prejudice, and racism, be it in Iran or in Austria, there is a clear message: the importance of family and the need to have someone in one’s life that will always support them and be at their side when they need help. In Satrapi’s cause, it was her grandmother.
Just like its predecessor, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, the art, dialogue, and narrative form truly shine. There is simplicity to Marjane’s style that permits the readers to concentrate on the characters themselves rather than getting distracted by detailed visuals and spiffy wording. While other art styles would have emphasized certain physical characteristics, Satrapi satisfies herself with just simple clues. The hairstyle, body type and facial structure, along with each character’s respective clothing, are enough to evoke the author’s perception of them. This minimalism also works with the gore and horror imagery that is also included in this volume. There is no necessity to portray with great detail the stump of a missing arm, the near-nakedness of a couple, or the aging of a woman; what is necessary for the reader is to understand, through the narration of the protagonist and each character’s facial expressions, the feeling of a scene.
But beyond the artsy layer, there is a new topic: sex. As Satrapi grows older, she is exposed to the sexual aspect in her life and those that surround her. Furthermore, when Satrapi returns to Iran, a world of veiled adult women, she successfully portrays these women as diverse, in body and facial structure, without needing to see beyond their veils.
The scenes presented in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return are crucial to Satrapi’s growth and to the reader’s perception of her. All that she says, all that she perceives, is what changes her and molds her into who she must become. Through her strife and suffering, Marjane Satrapi experienced a life that when portrayed in a graphic novel has given the public a glimpse of Iranian society. She is, and always will be, an Iranian woman who, no matter what happens during her life—be it good or bad—, will always be proud of her heritage.