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copyright ©1999-2005

the bookshelf:
ersepolis and persepolis 2 
by Yee-Fan Sun
  1 2 3

For years, I've tried and tried to get into graphic novels. I love words; I love images; you'd think a marriage of the two would be right up my alley. But my brain, it seems, gets confused when it has to process words and images all at the same time. I can read the dialogue, or I can look at the artwork, but attempting to do both in parallel makes me feel about as coordinated as that old trick of rubbing your belly while patting your head. In both cases, I suppose the feat can be accomplished with a little effort, but it sure as heck doesn't come naturally to me.

So when my sister-in-law arrived for a visit last week and pulled out Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis for me to read, I was skeptical. Yes, it's a female coming-of-age tale, a genre for which I am a complete and total sucker, as evidenced by the fact that my Young Adult paperbacks still take a prominent position on my bookshelves. And yeah, the story of a girl growing up under fundamentalist Islamic rule was especially intriguing. But that whole picture book thing? My brain can't do comic books, I told my sister-in-law, wrinkling my nose.

But this is good, she assured me -- and see, the pictures are really cute and simple. So I sat down, opened the book, gave it a try… and fell in love. So much so that after making it to the quasi-cliffhanger ending of Persepolis, I promptly set out to get my hands on the book's sequel, Persepolis 2.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood buy it

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's tale of growing up in Tehran in the 70s and 80s. It's a turbulent time in Iran, as the reigning Shah incites the fury of Islamic religious leaders with his Western-influenced reforms, while at the same time, alienates the nation's intelligentsia with his increasingly frivolous spending and over-eagerness to please Western powers at the expense of the good of his people. In 1979, the Shah is finally driven out of Iran in a revolution. It's a change of regime that's initially celebrated by many, but ultimately simply substitutes one tyrant for another. Islamic fundamentalists step into power and not long after, Iran and Iraq become engaged in a bitter and bloody war that brings bombs and terror to an already troubled nation.

It's against this backdrop that Marjane Satrapi's childhood unfolds. Satrapi is the only daughter of two politically outspoken intellectuals, the granddaughter of a former Prime Minister turned Communist proponent and the great-great-granddaughter of the last of the Iranian emperors. The increasingly oppressive climate brings big changes and new fears into the lives of her once privileged family. When we meet young Marjane -- Marji as she's called by her family -- in the years before the revolution, she's a precocious six-year-old who likes to talk to God and fancies herself destined to become a prophet. Her parents are highly educated and avant-garde in their thinking; they've raised their daughter to be politically conscious and intellectually curious from an early age. So while Marji sees no problem with the idea of herself, a female and a child to boot, as a prophet, she does begin to ask some mighty big questions during her regular tete-a-tetes with the man upstairs. At the same time, she becomes intrigued with philosophers and revolutionaries from an early age; her favorite book is a comic featuring Marx and Descartes (she discovers that the drawing of Marx, oddly enough, bears a striking resemblance to her image of God). 

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