If a picture speaks a thousand words, then we must begin to consider the power that graphic novels may have. And I speak beyond getting reluctant readers to pick up a book – I speak of the debate as to whether or not a graphic novel can be considered literary.
Satrapi – an author and artist – finds her niche in this medium, one in which she can draw what moves her and tell the stories that drive her. This is an autobiographical story (keeping in mind that I read Volumes I and II) of Marjane’s childhood years in a politically unbalanced Iran during the return of fundamentalist Islam in the 1970s. Marjane is born into a family of activists. An outspoken child of strong feeling – both religious when very young, and also an independent and compassionate spirit – it becomes clear throughout Volume I that Satrapi will never survive life in Iran…
The second volume contains the story of her troubled teenage years in Austria where, lonely, she dabbles with drugs in an attempt to fit into a world that whilst more free, is still a puzzle to her. She still feels like an outsider everywhere she goes. Eventually Satrapi returns to Iran, where she studies Art, graduates, marries, divorces and eventually moves to France. She remains there even today, and her novels are published first in French.
Satrapi blends the historical and the personal together beautifully, and gives one of the more engaging history lessons I have ever undertaken. She is able to weave together the tragic, the comic and the ironic in a way that consistently hits the mark with the reader. Having seen the film as well – I would definitely recommend the graphic novel above its adaptation. Not that the film doesn’t have some clever parts as well – but this has more depth and provides the reader with a greater understanding of the history that shapes Satrapi’s life, and I suppose the lives of many Iranian women. But beyond this, many of the concerns are universal. Persepolis is – as the subtitle says – The Story of a Childhood.
I found this graphic novel a really intriguing way to be told a story – reading and analysing the pictures all at once. Satrapi’s black and white images are clear and beautifully drawn – with just the right balance of prose. Each panel is its own work of art – as you can see from the ones I have included here. It certainly won’t be the only graphic novel I have a look at.