Fighting with the Sky

Reading Persepolis

Posted on: September 17, 2009

So, I’m also a blogger for the online, feminist book club Radical Readers & Feminisms for Dummies.  I recently finished reading our book for September, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and just wrote a post about it for the book club blog.  I really enjoyed reading this book and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it with you.  (This post and the post for the book club blog are fairly similar but the post on the book club blog goes a little more in depth for people who have read the book.  I wanted to keep this post more of a general review, just so you know.)

persepolisPersepolis is the memoir in graphic novel form of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in wartime Iran, her adolescence spent in Austria, and her return to Iran and all the trials and tribulations that come with that.  Growing up during the Islamic Revolution and a war with Iraq in Iran, Marjane had to learn quickly about the cruel realities of the world.  Her family was outspoken (as much as they could be out of fear of persecution) against the new regime and the war and encouraged Marjane to develop her own voice through education.  As a teenager living by herself in Vienna, Marjane had to face the confusion of adolescence alone as well as trying to stay true to her Iranian heritage but also struggling to fit into the European culture.  Returning to Iran was just as difficult for Marjane.  After spending four years in Europe, she was too Western for Iran but too Iranian for the West.

What’s so great about this book is that it is at the same time foreign and familiar.  Many people have not experienced the Islamic Revolution as a child or have grown up when a war was waged on their country.  But at the same time, Marjane’s coming of age story is familiar to many.  Seeing the world from the “innocence” of a child and discovering the meaning of things for the first time.  Struggling to fit in as a teen when you feel as if no one will accept you.  Being in a romantic relationship for the first time and all the fears and joys that come from that.

As a graphic novel, Persepolis is easy to read and understand.  But the fact that it is a graphic novel adds something else.  The illustrations of Persepolis add another dimension to the story.  My experience with graphic novels is limited, but I found the story of Persepolis to have its reality enhanced by the illustrations.  Even though the graphic violence of wartime or the exploration of one’s sexuality as a teenager is not shown, the adventures of Marjane’s childhood and adolescence are given a face through the illustrations.

I do not know a whole lot about the Islamic Revolution in Iran or Iranian culture in general.  Because of this, I did have a hard time understanding some of the background of the story.  But Satrapi does a good job at explaining the traditions and rules of Iranian culture as well as some of the events of the Islamic Revolution.

I definitely saw Persepolis as a feminist text.  Marjane herself was raised to think for herself and to seek education in whatever forms necessary.  She speaks up about what she believes in and the injustices that she sees.  She’s trying to discover the world and find her place in it.  She’s a strong and independent woman.

One of the issues that Marjane and her family frequently speak out against is the veil.  I am not incredibly familiar with Islamic traditions, but I do know that many people view the head scarf as a choice and I feel that when women are forced to wear it against their free will, then there is a problem.  But I do not see an inherent problem with the head scarf if it is worn out of a woman’s choice.  In Iran at this time, women were forced to wear a head scarf.  While Marjane and the women in her family wore a head scarf in public out of need for survival, Marjane speaks out against it.  In a lecture about moral conduct, Marjane speaks up:

“You say that our head-scarves are short, that our pants are indecent, that we make ourselves up, etc…You don’t hesitate to comment on us, but our brothers present here have all shapes and sizes of haircuts and clothes.  Sometimes they wear clothes so tight that we can see everything.  Why is it that I, as a woman, am expected to feel nothing when watching these men with their clothes sculpted on but they, as men, can get excited by two inches less of my head-scarf?”

I like that she talked about the differing expectations for men and women and how women can never express their sexual desires in this speech (I had to cut some of it out because it was very long).  Of course, speaking up against the head-scarf requirement is not the only feminist issue that Persepolis raises.  I’m just using it as an example.  Marjane speaks up against the injustices that she sees.  She takes her life into her own hands at many times and questions social norms and injustices.

If you have not read Persepolis already, I highly recommend that you do.  It’s a good read and it’s a pretty fast read as well if you do not have a lot of time.  I also plan on writing a post about the movie Persepolis once I can get my hands on a copy seeing as how my local Blockbuster does not carry it.  But I will find one soon, I promise.

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