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copyright 1999-2005

the bookshelf: persepolis and persepolis 2 by Yee-Fan Sun |  1 2 3
continued from page 2

By the time she graduates from high school and begins her first year at university, she's doing too many drugs, dating a guy who never seems to have time for her, and hearing rumors that neo-Nazism is on the rise in Austria. Things go from bad to really, truly rock bottom; miserable, completely broke and in ill health, she finally decides to return home to Iran. Though her parents are thrilled to have her back, it's not an easy homecoming: Iran has become even more repressed in the years since she left, her parents seem suddenly old, her old friends now strike her as hopelessly frivolous, and Marjane's deep in the midst of young adult angst, convinced that she's failed her parents. Slowly, Marjane carves out a place for herself, earning a spot studying graphic arts at the university, making friends who share her open-minded views, falling in love with a fellow artist named Reza. But as she finds herself and her friends leading a double life -- forced to conform to the state's restrictive rules and national chauvinism in public, letting out their freethinking, fun-loving, fashionable and worldly selves behind closed doors, Marjane begins to wonder whether her future really lies in Iran.

Whether you're a long time fan of graphic novels or you've never picked one up in your life, both Persepolis books are sure to suck you in and stick with you. The illustrations, rendered in simple, solid blacks and whites, manage to be both adorably charming and genuinely powerful; Satrapi's writing goes convincingly from irreverent and disarmingly funny to poignant and moving without missing a beat. There's no sentimentality here, no melodrama; scenes from normal life are interwoven seamlessly with the horrors of living under a government that punishes its women for crimes as minor as showing too much hair, that rewards the country's brightest minds with torture and execution. As Satrapi herself notes in the introduction to Persepolis, the Islamic world is too often made synonymous in the minds of Westerners with fundamentalism and terrorism, the sort of extremism and oppression that seems far, far removed from our own lives. Satrapi's books bring us into that world, as we see just how far a government can go in suppressing the rights and well-being of its people in the name of God, and just how quickly freedoms that were once taken for granted can suddenly disappear. But the Persepolis books show us another side to life under fundamentalist rule too. We see people continuing to laugh, have parties, dance, play jokes, fall in love, stand up for themselves. We meet folks who seem a lot like us, once you go beyond the veil. It's this that makes Persepolis and Persepolis 2 such essential reading, as the Western world and the Islamic one continue to collide, and understanding one another is more critical than ever. News reports and history books: these are all great ways to get ourselves educated. But it's the human faces and the personal stories that we get in Satrapi's eminently readable books that really make us see: our governments might differ, but people the world over are largely the same.

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summer reading 2004 | summer reading 2003 | travelogues | kiddie lit


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