Thursday, 18 April 2013

Book Review: Persepolis

I have just realised I had not finished and posted a review of our last book club novel, even though it's been sitting in drafts for some weeks.   The book chosen by Olga for that month was Persepolis.  It is the type of book I would never have looked twice at...a graphic novel...having never read one before I was pleasantly surprised.

Persepolis is the memoir of a young Iranian girl Marjane Satrapi and her family living in Iran during the late 1970's to the mid 1990's although for four years Marjane did study overseas in Austria and we follow her experiences there also.  Satrapi takes us on a journey traversing this period through the lens of her childhood, teenage and young adult years.

It is an intimate, heartfelt tale of life in Iran with her parents, grandmother plus an array of relatives, friends and neighbours, intertwined with the universal pain and angst of being a teenager.  When this story was really unfolding I was a young mother, whilst I watched the news in Australia of events in Iran I admit I did not think much more about it and certainly the media did not delve into the effect that this fundamentalist regime was having on those living there,  reports were mainly on how this change would affect the rest of the western world.

Satrapi brings the reality of this situation to life with her stories of how an intellectual avant-garde family like hers coped with the various rules which seemed to get more absurd as time went on.  She relates how hard it was for her and many others, to not just come to terms with having to wear the veil but a complete lifestyle upheaval.  With the new regime came a plethora of restrictions and she describes with pathos and humour the situations that they would unwittingly find themselves in.

One of my favourite passages about the absurdity of these directives was when she was caught running in the street and told to stop as her bottom moved in an obscene way that could get men excited, she yelled very loudly back to them 'well then don't look at my ass'.  Another incident was during her time at art school, when in her life drawing class the women were only expected to draw other women in full chador and veil.  The professor who had taught art before the new regime was sympathetic to their plight and just said try to make the best of it.

But after a few weeks of this and with pressure from the professor, the director finally approved a clothed male model for them to draw, so at least they could see and draw limbs.  One day she stayed back after class drawing the model when another supervisor entered and asked what she was doing...'I am drawing' 'why are you looking at this man?' she replied 'well because I am drawing him'...'yes but you are not allowed to look at him, it's against the moral code.' 'What should you have me do? Should I draw this man while looking at the door???!!  'Yes' he replied.

Satrapi successfully persuades the reader to identify with her family, as they are just like any other family, just like your own family,  I easily found myself slipping into her shoes and wondering how well I would have coped.

Marjane Satrapi comes across as a very strong willed inquisitive child and later quite rebellious teenager.  As I was reading it, I wondered how much of this tale was strictly autobiographical and how much was artistic license to create a good tale, after a little internet research I'd say it is based on her experiences but not an exact word for word portrayal, as she says in this interview.

However from the interview I do see a fiesty side to Satrapi and think yes she probably did tell the group of nuns in Austria that they were previously prostitutes.

So what about the graphic illustrations? Well they are simple black and white line drawings,  effectively conveying the feeling and emotion behind the words and I found that they added to and reinforced the imagery already in my head.  The only issue I had was with the size of the book - normal paper back size, which then made the print/font size tiny and quite difficult to read, even the younger members of the group made comments about this it is not just a grandma thing.

I did enjoy the book, especially the authors dry wit to convey the horror and frustration which she and her family experienced. I liked the way she had the ability to connect her story with me so I could see it so easily from her perspective. However I did not absolutely love it and its not one that would make my all time favourite list, mainly because it is a fast read and I tend to be more keen on long character driven stories that take a little time to unfold.  However the beauty of  book club is that I get to read books that I would never think to select for myself.   As a group we felt that Persepolis  made us contemplate a little  more deeply about the events of that time and or indeed similar events reported today and gave us more of a first hand perspective of how the real people and families felt at the time. 

I and the bookclub give it a 4 star rating.

During the last few weeks there has been a furious debate in the blogosphere around the banning of the book in some Chicago schools (I only discovered them today as I am completing this review), you can read more about it here, herehere and here.  We read and discussed the book before any of this controversy arose and honestly I just think the whole idea of banning ridiculous, no matter what age.  So I will just let the Colbert Report have the last word on the matter.


  1. Certainly something to think about here, Vicki.I've always thought censorship rather silly,having grown up in a family where freedom to read was paramount.Guidance, yes, but certainly freedom to choose.

    1. Diane, I must admit I am a always astonished when things like this happen, sometimes I think the western world is becoming more controlling now in 2013 than it has ever been in the past.

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