Persepolis tells the story of a smart and rebellious girl who finds herself growing up without a place to call her own. It is the autobiographical tale of Marjane Satrapi, who put it down on paper as a black and white graphic novel and has recently converted it into an animated film. As a young girl, her parents joined protests for a republic in Iran, but when the Shah is finally dethroned and the Islamic Revolution rolls around, things go from bad to worse. A small group of Holier Than Thou’s, aided and abetted by a large flock of sheep, force their strict religious beliefs down everyone’s throat. All liberal elements are seen as hostile and therefore violently suppressed. Marjane’s parents send her to Europe to escape the regime but without any close family to fall back on, she has trouble finding a place that feels like home. When she admits defeat and travels back to Iran, to the comfort of her parents, she doesn’t fit in there anymore either. The obligatory veil, the inequality of men and women, the large posters of martyrs all over the cities and the prohibition of free expression add up to a sense of alienation. At one point she is admonished by police for trying to catch a bus because her behind makes ‘obscene’ movements when she runs. ‘Well then don’t look at my ass!!’ she yells at them in exasperation. They are too stunned to arrest her. Will she stay in Iran, where any exposed skin is assumed to automatically lead to wanton lust, or will she head abroad once again?
Persepolis gives a fascinating perspective on Iran. Rather than a unified country of zealots, there are different groups and opinions within the country, even if they can’t make themselves heard. Satrapi humanises the country and manages to make you smile regularly even though her story is tragic at the core, many lives being pointlessly destroyed. She published more graphic novels after Persepolis (which was originally published in two volumes) and after having read this one Embroideries, Chicken with Plums even the children’s book Monsters are Afraid of the Moon have risen to the top of my to-read list.