Written by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis, first published in 2000, is a memoir dedicated to the intersection between threats and repression, between tradition and modernity, between privilege and suffering, and between childhood and revolution. This timeless work continues in its relevance today.
Born in Rasht, Iran and spending her early life there, Satrapi masterfully portrays the intricacies of growing up in a country on the cusp of massive conflict. The reader is quickly drawn into the beautiful, heartbreaking perspective of a young Marji as she navigates the adult world with a child’s perspective, forced to grow up too fast as so many are.
The stark black-and-white images alongside simple prose allows the reader to absorb the difficult subject matter in an easily consumable manner. The reader is given the chance to learn with Marji as she attempts to create a place for herself in an Iran on the brink of revolution, then war, and then after the exile of the Shah and the rise of theocracy.
This perspective humanizes the people in the story, something many novels based in history have a difficult time doing. By the end of the graphic novel, Marji has experienced deaths, feared for her father’s life as he photographed a protest, and taken cover from bomb raids, which could have lead to a novel that only focused on the bleak. Yet, throughout the novel, Satrapi strikes a careful balance between these injustices and the lighthearted moments which endear the reader to Marji and the many people in her life all the more.
Since the publishing of Persepolis, Iranian citizens have continued to experience bombings and oppression, and many continue to rebel, mirroring the spirit of Marji and her parents in the first graphic novel of the trilogy. As recently as this year, protestors gathered to condemn the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane by the state. In fact, protests have been just about constant in the country, whether against rising oil prices or ones by women seeking more rights and freedoms.
While Marji’s rebellious nature is a focal point of her youth, this might not be indicative of the author’s message. In a way, the book captures the futility of revolution, as the deposition of the Shah is followed by the rise of the Islamic Republic, which was also opposed by some members of society. That being said, as the book highlights, there are also people who will celebrate the Islamic Republic on its 41st anniversary this year. This is one of the strong points of the novel, which introduces multiple unique perspectives, forcing the reader to throw out stereotypes and view the Iranian people as individuals as opposed to a monolith.
Translated from French, Persepolis was written for an audience foreign to Iran by an author and artist who experienced many of the events integral to what made the country Iran is today. It is an invaluable account of strength, honesty, and growing up with the unimaginable horrors of war at your doorstep. Persepolis will go down in the literary canon as a skillfully written, insightful graphic novel that has ensured no one will forget what happened in Iran in 1979, nor what occurred after, just as the author intended.