by Marjane Satrapi
In this exciting installment of the London Graphic Novel Network we’re off to sample the sights and delights of Iran! Dealing with the following very important questions: is this book more like a headache or a migraine? How exactly should you mix the personal with the universal? And come on – how much of it did you manage to read exactly before you gave up?
So: try not to all cry too hard but I’m currently laid up in bed (well – on the sofa) with a case of acute bronchitis (or as I like to call it: having a headache and coughing all the time).
Persepolis a scared cow – ha ha, gold dust!
It’s really good for what it is and every young woman I’ve given it to has loved it and connected with it but if ‘great’ means something so universal and profound that it deserves to be read by everyone then Persepolis doesn’t quite cut it. As you say, Maus’s brilliance isn’t just down to the subject matter so much as the thoughtful way its handled, (both emotionally and technically) and this book is ‘just’ someone telling their life story although of course there’s nothing wrong with that!
Even so, it’s an interesting book culturally, I suspect it’s probably the main route through which westerners learn about Iran’s Islamic revolution these days. I have mixed feelings about that. Obviously, learning a bit of history is never a bad thing but Satrapi’s family were were far from representative of Iranians in that they had the means to leave the country after the revolution, (like my own Iranian relatives!) and I think ex pats’ opinions on a country generally need to be taken with a pinch of salt…
Reading what you wrote I have a few questions:
1. “It’s really good for what it is and every young woman I’ve given it to has loved it and connected with it” = huh? That makes it sound like you walk around with copies of Percy in your pockets and just hand them out on the street. I just wanna say that if that’s not case then you should rectify things immediately. “Oh yeah hi. Sorry – I know we haven’t met – but here’s a copy of Persepolis. You’re welcome. Have a nice day.”
I think it just deeply irritates me that’s we don’t hear many other stories about that period but that’s obviously not her fault!
As for Maus, it’s another discussion, but it would have been remarkable enough, had it even been a straight novel.
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I’m reading this as a person that has general (basic) knowledge of the historical events depicted in the story. I liked the perspective this brought to my existing ideas/knowledge on the subject. I found the artwork to be simple but effective, which allowed the story to shine through stronger.
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Erm, yes I check the synopsis. Other times someone might tell me it’s a really cool book/comic and tell me a little bit about it without providing spoilers. Sometimes it’ll have cover art and I can guess what it involves and what genre it is. Am I to assume you just randomly pick up books/comics/movies making sure you know absolutely nothing about them?
A quick non-Commercial break here.
I thought I would draw your attention to todays Alex as it comments on the Charlie Hebdo incident in a mildly meta way that is quite unusual for the comic (and funny, check out the computer screens) (the comic is just back from the holidays today).
Really good point Christine
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I think this is a great choice of book to talk about. I did not exactly know it had become a comic sacred cow (whether a nervous one or otherwise!). I thought Persepolis was so good that I bought Satrapi’s follow-up book Embroideries in Gower St (being doubly rewarded with a quizzical look by the assistant in Waterstones). I can see the frustration experienced by those closer to the story that it has quite likely become the main prism through which Westerners view it. This might be changing with David B’s recent “The Best of Enemies, the story of the relationship between the United States and the Middle East” – like Persepolis also first published in French (and reminding everyone that France and Britain also had a hand in deposing Mossadegh, Iran’s lawfully elected prime minister).
All this discussion about whether Satrapi’s family was a ‘typical’ Iranian family, or whether her experience was a ‘typical’ one seems decidedly wrongheaded, to me.
She wrote and drew THIS story because it was HERS. This is what happened to her and her family.
I hope I’m pointing out the bloody obvious here.
I like Mark’s point about Satrapi writing HER story, not about a ‘typical’ family.
Gretchen Rubin also argues in her ‘memoir/year of a project’ book that we pay more attention to intensly personal stories about how that person achieved/overcame something, rather than a scientific analysis of the best way for everyone to achieve/overcome X. Her own happiness project takes the scientific/literary research and turns it into lived experience.
Also you know more about your own family than the ‘typical family’.
I stopped reading Persepolis when I go the bit about torture and people having their toenails ripped off. Apparently they don’t grow back very well (too evocative!). Unfortunately that put me off a bit, and I was worried to read about more dreadful injustice. I prefer to hear about awful things in the context of fact book, that puts them in perspective, shows how and why they happened, and also dampens down the awfulness of the inhumanity by mentioning it rather than evoking it (e.g. Naomi Klein on Pinochet’s regime in the Shock Doctrine). Though I suppose you are more likely to read such a book after getting interested by a book such as Persepolis.
In the part I did read I could see that Satrapi was not doing a good job of going underground as the country got increasingly strict and it really forshadowed her being sent away, you see it as the only safe thing for her parents to do. How lucky her mother had a trusted friend outside the country.
In the absence of any more of my own opinions I will quote Douglas Wolk, from Reading Comics, which I am reading now.
[What P is about] … Still, it’s hard for me to see Satrapi’s artwork in Persepolis without being distracted by its obvious debt to Epileptic. Her deliberately flat, two dimensional images are almost homages to B.’s fiercely squashed perspective and military-tapestry figures, but they’re usually just simplified representations of real perception: they don’t have B.’s scary mystery or sense of raging, overwhelming floods of imagination. My ambivalence about Satrapi in this context has a lot to do with the fact that her success in English has overshadowed B.’s; when I show people Epileptic, they often note that it takes after Persepolis a bit. (Vice versa!). In her more recent books Embroideries and Chicken with Plums, though Satrapi’s drawing style has evolved into something more her own.
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First, it is correct (see below) that Satrapi writes “about the Iranian revolution and its aftermath as it affected her (as an individual)”.
But as a national story, Persepolis is no mere chronicle either. This is evident in artwork openly fusing the naïve and the symbolic, complementing the narrative as the Chorus adds to the dramatic action in a Greek Tragedy.
For example, when the Shah’s army is called in to suppress a crowd, it is depicted as serried ranks of soldiers maintaining exactly the same stance and holding rifles at the same angle. In their turn, the members of the crowd facing and throwing stones at the army are depicted in the same uniform way – both clearly echo the relief sculptures visible in the ruins of Persepolis (and in the British Museum, I think).
This works on loads of levels. It makes Persepolis a work of art in itself but it also acts as a commentary on the vainglorious Shah’s inability to control his people with the style and symbolism of the Persian emperors. Yet, the crowd being depicted in the same way, the revolution is also stylised as a classic people’s revolt of ancient times, at least at first.
The story that follows, much of it political and some of it personal, shows how world-historical and individual narratives intertwine. It is always extremely difficult for autocratic regimes to control people’s lives to the extent they characteristically demand – because the more conformity is enforced, the greater the symbolic impact of even the smallest deviation from conformity. The small personal details in the narrative thereby tell a universal story.
This is a lot more than just history.
As a side note, looking though my edition again, I notice David B wrote the introduction…
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