Persepolis (Parts 1 and 2) by Marjane Satrapi

You know the YouTube black hole, where you’re streaming videos for no rhyme or reason? Just clicking on any attractive next video presented to you by algorithms? Yeah, that happened to me when I was searching for “2020 movie trailers”.

Somehow, I ended up watching a clip from the 2007 film adaptation of the graphic novel Persepolis. The clip stopped me. The last time I read Persepolis was probably 10 years ago. I was compelled to search for the graphic novels (my editions are the one in 2 parts) on my overstuffed bookshelves and enjoy them anew. A bibliophile’s nostalgia is a powerful thing. Powerful enough to defeat big tech’s algorithms.

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir in graphic novel form. Part 1 follows her childhood, which was greatly impacted by the Iranian revolution in 1979. Since girlhood, Marjane’s politically active parents raised her with complete freedom and encouraged her curiosity and independence. Yet the 1979 revolution brought a strong conservative swing to Iran. Soon after, women were not allowed outside their homes without head scarves. Parties and alcohol were banned. A force is established to police citizens and regulate “indecent” behavior. Part 2 follows Marjane’s young adulthood, from her teen years to her early twenties.

As a high schooler, I loved Part 1 unreservedly. While I admired Part 2, I found several stories whiny and self-indulgent. The Marjane of Part 1 was a brave little girl, with guts and strength most adults only dream of. Teen and young-adult Marjane made a lot of dumb decisions.

Rereading Persepolis now, I am more sympathetic of the Marjane in Part 2. Yes, I still think some of her troubles were of her own making. But what did I expect? Brave little girls are often reckless, and when they grow up, they may be more prone to drug experimentation or a bad crowd, as opposed to shy girls who are more likely to stay at home and aren’t proactive.

This time, I can also see how Marjane herself wasn’t proud of her conduct in Part 2. It took her a lot of time to pick herself up, to feel like herself again. I’m astounded that she put all her mistakes and warts out there for the public to read. I wonder if Marjane Satrapi herself felt a happy sense of catharsis in creating Part 2.

Part 1 and Part 2 serve different purposes. Part 1 is Marjane’s family history, Iran’s history, macro history. It supplies the context for the personal history of Part 2. It isn’t just “the personal is political”, but also how the political affects (at times deeply) the personal. Even as a teen in Europe, Marjane couldn’t escape or avoid her history.

This time, I can see why little Marjane of Part 1 was so lovable. A child who is charming and courageous is faultless. She had yet to make any of her own stories or mistakes. Her main purpose in Part 1 is to be a conduit of the stories told by the people around her, and the story of Iran.

Each time I read Persepolis, the story of Marjane and her Uncle Anoosh in Part 1 remains a heartbreaking highlight even though he was only in Marjane’s life for a short period, and in the story for a mere 2 chapters. Their bond never fails to touch me deeply. Love, in whatever form, knows no time or brevity. It simply marks and stays with you.

Whatever you think of Persepolis, it remains influential even today. As a literary enthusiast, I no longer blink an eye at the idea of comic books and graphic novels as effective mediums for thoughtful, mature stories. In the 2000s, even the idea of Persepolis was novel. I’m sure Persepolis wasn’t the first adult memoir to use a graphic novel format, but it certainly popularized it. I do believe contemporary graphic novels (especially standalone ones) that deal with mature, gritty topics owe a debt to its success. And I’d say that is the macro impact of Persepolis.

These books have lived on my bookshelves for more than a decade now. Each time I read them, I laugh, I learn, and I am moved. The stories in Persepolis are never dated. I can always depend on my editions for an absorbing read. I don’t think I will ever donate my copies away; and that’s my small yet personal history with and connection to Persepolis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s