Summer Reading: Persepolis

If you’re looking for something a little different to read this summer, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, published to great acclaim in the early 2000s, remains a modern classic among graphic novels. It begat both a sequel and an animated adaptation. We consider the original here.

The story brings you into the world of a child growing up during turbulent times. If you’ve ever wondered how a dystopian government could take hold of society, read Persepolis, and find out how one actually did.

General Information

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Writer/Artist: Karjane Satrapi
First Published: 2001.
Translated Edition: 2003

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Marjane Satrapi, a middle-class Iranian girl whose family, despite radical leanings, manages to stay on the better side of the Shah’s dictatorship, remains unaware of how brutal her government can be. A revolution overthrows the Shah, and her parents look forward to a better life for the Iranian people. Unfortunately, an even more ruthless and invasive dictatorship starts to emerge. Marjane comes of age amidst war, repression, and duplicity.

High Points

1. Satrapi captures childhood and adolescence in its complexities, and they will be recognizable even if the setting is unfamiliar and the broader events, shocking. We see how dictatorships maintain, keep, and abuse power, how widespread forbidden expressions and official hypocrisy become, and how inhuman people can be when they have been assured they possess absolute truth.

Obviously, this is not the deepest analysis of events, but we do see how they unfold in the lives of everyday people.

2. As a cheap shot, Marji’s father’s response to the female teacher (who criticizes the fact that the girls do not know how to wear their veils) is pretty good:

If hair is as stimulating as you say, then you need to shave your mustache.

Low Point

I don’t have a specific low point, so I offer an observation: I liked this book, but many incidents, while thought-provoking and fascinating, may not be “enjoyable” in the sense many readers might expect when they pick up a graphic novel. Some readers may not forgive the author for demonstrating that a certain Orwell classic isn’t as far-fetched as they imagined.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6 We’ve had many “slices of life” graphic novels and others that have set human stories against complex history, but none have told this particular story.

Artwork: 5/6 the clean lines and simplified style enhance a story of considerable depth.

Story: 5/6 Persepolis is moving, though fragmented.

Characterization: 5/6 Satrapi shines in her ability to communicate entirely the central character, and the essence of the people around her. These people are as varied, likeable, and dislikeable as those you know. And no, not even the protagonist and her family receive a free pass.

Emotional response: 6/6

Flow 4/6

Overall: 6/6

In total, Persepolis receives 36/42

4 replies on “Summer Reading: Persepolis”

    • Still haven’t seen it. Is it based on both graphic novels (the second one has her returning to Iran as a young adult)

      • If I recall correctly, she doesn’t return to Iran. In fact, the movie is bookended with her at the airport trying to return, but she can’t (the whole movie is essentially a flashback while she’s at the airport).

        • Ok, that was misleading. The second one ENDS with her return to Iran. It’s mostly set in Europe.

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