Among the passengers of the Jolly Swag, I am sure I come late to the discovery of Persepolis.  I refer to the books Persepolis, and Persepolis2 and the movie Persepolis which here I treat as a single work of art. 

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir and the animated movie based on it are doubly graphic.  Lots of black ink is required to draw the burka-clad women who animate the scenes of the dark period in Iran’s history chronicled here. Her story opens in 1979—at the wrenching instant when the American embassy in Iran was taken over and the repressive regime of the Shah collided with the resurrection of religious fundamentalism.

At the time Marjanen was a ten-year-old, the only child of an engineer father and feminist mother. Throughout the story, her grandmother appears, with love, affection and forgiveness so archetypal, that her persona leaps off the page.  The family created an environment for this child that was free from want.  She was encouraged to be inquisitive, to think for herself, and be unafraid to express her ideas. 

Persepolis proceeds along the multiple paths of Marjane’s next fourteen years.  The readers get to peer into childhood’s end, the trajectory of hormonal adolescence, and the emergence of the young adult, and to look outward through her eyes at Iran’s historic crossroad.  The perception by the political leadership and the people that the nation was effectively a colony of the West exploited for its oil resource and otherwise dismissed.   The national spiral into a theocracy enlisted religion’s darkest tools to homogenize the minds of her people.

Persepolis 2 opens when Marjane is shipped from Iran to Austria at the age of fourteen.  For the next four years, we live with her through all the stages of female adolescence in households where she is treated with disdain.  Without the support of big sisters or nearby family, her independent nature is welcomed only by a spoiled bunch of nihilists.  The common bond of her friends is their rejection of a society they are unable to fit in to. 

She has all the shoves and tugs of every teen.  In Iran she’d not be permitted the phases she agonized her way through–how to look, what substances to experiment with, depilation, and sex–all the while living with families who don’t like her, or with nuns who do what nuns do, and for a while, on the streets.  She is an alien in a land with no love for her.

After four years of this life, she decides to return home to the love of her parents and her grandmother, but otherwise, a world equally cruel and turbulent, a fundamentalist nation where domestic animals are treated with more humanity than women. The second half of the book deals mostly with her next four years and ends when she leaves Iran forever 

Today, Satrapi is a journalist, novelist, and film maker living in Paris.  She is someone we will hear more from.

Persepolis and Persepolis2 are quick reads, an hour each if you read them for the story; an evening or more, if you run with the thoughts they provoke.




8 Responses to *Persepolis

  1. David L says:

    It’s difficult for Americans, raised essentially in good times, to comprehend, in truth, the plight and discouragement that others are faced with. I don’t speak so much directly to Starapi’s life through adolescence and back to Iran, but to the large majority of others who live similar and worse lives. And the sadness for me, is not so much the poverty of food and ideas I see, but the way our country lends it’s might to its perpetuity, as we seek through exploitation of others, our own perceived fulfillment. Some would call this a political and commerce situation, I think its one of humanity. And its one of hubris and mendacity, as we speak mostly “nice” while pilfering others of resources – and their good faith.

    And I apologize for this divergence from Al’s message of reading Persopolis, but for some reason, it pulled my chain.

  2. Sandra says:

    On a similar note, see the 1991 film Not Without My Daughter starring Sally Field as an American mother whose daughter was held in Iran against her will by her father, and her efforts to free her in a horrible but true story.

    • allevenson says:


      Thanks for the suggestion. I will look it up.

      How are you doing? It was hard for me to see you operating in a lower gear when I visited. I guess that was a year ago.

      I am having breakfast alongside a lake in the town of Hernando, Florida. On my way to Hog Landing Boat Ramp in Osceola National Forest where I met a family living in a tent when I came south two days ago.

      I’ll be back in Atlanta by the weekend and finally on the way north by Tuesday.

      Thinking about you fondly,


    • Colleen Rae says:

      I saw the film, and it was indeed a horrific story.

      • A brave performance by Alfred Molina, one of the great character actors in movies and also brilliant on stage: Art, Red, Speed The Plow, etc. He disappears into each role, so
        you might not know him.

  3. Colleen Rae says:

    Al, I look forward to reading the books. When I was in Iran in 1973-4 the Iranians were very unhospitable to Americans but whenever I used the bathrooms in the train stations, the Iranian women in their burkas would drop their hoods and exclaimed over my long ‘red’ hair. I had used Henna on it to keep it healthy.Although we didn’t speak a like language we seemed to communicate just fine. I was struck by the beauty of Iranian women; no wonder their men didn’t want anyone to gaze upon their faces.

  4. dhbauer says:

    In the early 1970s, during my first years of university teaching, one of my academically strongest graduate advisees was a young Iranian woman who was studying in the US on a student VISA. I vividly recall her desperate efforts to extend her VISA status in order to avoid returning to Iran in the years just before the fall of the Shah. She ultimately was able to gain admission to a doctoral program at UCLA from which she graduated, to attain US citizenship and to remain in the US. At the time that I worked with her I had little idea about the status of women in fundamentalist Islamic Iranian culture, which ultimately rose to control the country under the Ayatollah.

  5. Dave Bauer says:

    To briefly follow up on my earlier message regarding my graduate advisee from Iran, I wish to report that after earning her doctoral degree in clinical child psychology from UCLA she went into private practice. She now operates a successful clinical practice for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in the Los Angeles area.

    Too bad that Iran lost her natural talent, but then again, what is Iran’s loss turns out to be our gain. I am sure that under the Ayatollah the practice of clinical psychology would have been prohibited, if not punished, perhaps by the cutting off the head because it is the seat of the mind.

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