Iran from the Inside



If you haven’t heard the news yet, “Persepolis” was nominated for an Academy Award yesterday for Best Animated Feature Film, so this seems like a pretty good time to review the graphic novel that the movie is based on.

“Persepolis” is a story written by Marjane Satrapi about her youth in Iran during the post-revolution era. She writes about the weird fundamentalism of life there, about having to learn the right things to wear to keep from angering the authorities, about buying punk rock on the black market, about meeting your heroic uncle for the first time and later hearing that he’s been executed unjustly as a spy. She also writes about her parents sending her to high school in Austria to get her away from the fundamentalists, about living her life alone in a strange country, and about later returning to her home country.

This is a really excellent book, very engrossing and fascinating. Satrapi tells so many interesting stories, sometimes as simple throwaway anecdotes — her friend from school who gets killed by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War, another friend who’s been crippled by the war, her many roommates during her stay in Austria. Some of the most interesting moments come when you realize that Satrapi had been ostracized in Iran as a dangerously outspoken woman who reads books about politics and philosophy, and was later ostracized in Europe solely because she was an Iranian and “everyone knows those Iranians are crazy fundamentalists.”

Satrapi’s artwork is really wonderful, too. Like a lot of autobiographical comics, the book uses a deceptively cartoonish style — the artwork looks simple, but it’s great for showing emotion and building drama — and yes, for spotlighting funny stuff. There really is some funny stuff that goes on here — at the very least, the goofy surrealism of trying to live in an autocratic society that actually freaks out about the right way to wear a headscarf. Satrapi’s teenaged angst is also written about very humorously.

Verdict: A very big thumbs up. Iran is in the news a lot these days — apparentally, some folks think we should go bomb ’em a bit, maybe because we ain’t involved in enough pointless Middle Eastern wars on brown people yet — and I figure it sure won’t hurt you to learn a little bit about an unfamiliar culture. Plus, with the movie out, they’ve released the entire four-volume series in a single book, so it’s a lot more affordable. Go check it out.

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  1. Hero Sandwich » Iran So Far Away Said,

    June 23, 2009 @ 6:21 am

    […] seriously, some of y’all may remember last year when I reviewed Marjane Satrapi’s brilliant graphic novel “Persepolis” — Satrapi was in the news just a few days ago after presenting a document she thinks proves […]