I’m not really into memoirs or biographies/auto biographies. I find the majority of them to translate with a significant amount of conceit. Nor do I list graphic novels among the ranks of my trusted book army. I like words, and illustrations are often appreciated, but the comic-book-like format of graphic novels has always felt a bit juvenile for my tastes. When I graduated to words, I made a semi-conscious decision to avoid comic books and their older cousins, graphic novels. I recognize that my judgment of the format was without true cause and, for a large part, unfair.
While I still can’t get through quite a few of them, there are shining examples with more than passable literary merit that I’ve had the good fortune to stumble upon. One of these in particular, which I feel like I should have read some time ago, is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis which recounts her childhood from the years 1979-1983 in Iran during the revolution. Her cast of characters includes herself, her parents, her maid and her grandmother, and a carousel of political-prisoner-uncles and neighbors. It’s a story about socio-political structure, and about war, but most importantly it is about freedom.
When I was in school—in history classes—our education was limited to x number of years. “World History” in my high school ended in World War I. “American History” in the same school ended in the Korean War. My Western History class in college ended sometime during the Reagan administration. My college American History course ended somewhere around FDR. All of that being said, none of my classes were focused on what was happening in Persia once we got around about to Charlamagne in 1066. Iran was never mentioned as Iran, let alone the revolution happening there. Even the Iranian hostage crisis – the first time I heard of that was on one of the anniversaries of their release, on television.
My education thus far – especially my Florida education – was biased toward America every step of the way. Very few allowances were made for America being wrong in what they did. Thanks, FOX News. In similar fashion, young Marji witnesses the discrepancies between what is reported and what truly happens. In this way, her testimony is a reflection of both the Iranian experience as well as the universal experience. Her fiery response to being subjugated as a woman bears the same two-sided reflection. Her honesty is what makes the piece so unique, so superb.
It is this honesty that gives her narration its edge – she does not shy away from the pain and the death. She does not deny her reader the grim light of the true experience. The amusing and singularly “comic” aspect of the comic-book format allows her to balance the images in our mind with her somewhat humorous illustration of a body that has been cut into pieces. All this made even more approachable and comic by the presence of an illustrated Karl-Marx-like God who feeds young Marji’s conscious need for affirmation in her pursuit of feminine freedom and fame.