Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2004, 160 pages
Graphic Novel Memoir

I’ve never been one to really enjoy graphic novels. I see their value, I appreciate that others enjoy them, but it’s never been my thing. Once in a while, I find one that grabs me, but generally, I find I have a bias toward wanting more text. I read quickly and graphic novels flash by me. I probably, admittedly, do not pick up subtleties in the images that go along with the text. That’s my disclaimer for my review of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is, arguably, not a graphic novel. In fact, it’s a graphic autobiography. Marjane Satrapi tells the highs and lows of her time as child in Iran during the Islamic revolution. As she explores the various relationships she held, particularly of that with an uncle, Marjane Satrapi gives the circumstances surrounding these events and the events themselves something of a face – albeit one with parts obscured and with parts illuminated by hindsight. A brave and rebellious child with equally tenacious parents, Marjane Satrapi as a character provides a spunky girl in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Another disclaimer – I grew up going to school in the American public school system. It would seem, compared to many other countries’ systems, mine was lacking in the global awareness arena. Any formal historical education I had focused solely on American history and, even then, it was limited to pretty much the Revolutionary War except for maybe on semester where we covered the Civil War through part of World War II. All this to say, I had zero context for Persepolis. At twenty-four, I guess there’s an argument to be made that this is my fault, but frankly, there’s a whole lot of history to learn and no so much time to do it. So, while I’ve gotten to the edges of starting to learn some of what I missed, I’m factually and conceptually blind when it comes to the Islamic revolution and Iran.

I don’t want to put the burden of that education on the author. That would cover so many –isms, it would make your head spin. At the very least, it would potentially imply that my time is more valuable than Satrapi’s, which it certainly isn’t. So, this burden is on me. My lack of knowledge in this area, however, presented a fairly large disconnect with the content of Persepolis. I had no context for the events in Satrapi’s life. And, while for many readers this might mean a springboard to doing research on their own, I just felt lost. It was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know (also on me, I don’t deny that) and doing the bare minimum of checking Wikipedia when I really felt it necessary. So, I’m certain I’m missing out on a lot of Persepolis that I needn’t. I probably would have enjoyed it with more context, whether Satrapi had supplied it or not. And, to be fair, Satrapi did include quite a bit of explanation and background. In any case, for this particular topic I leave you with this: be aware that, if you’re not already well-versed in this piece of history, you’ll be lost. Don’t blame it on the author.

Next: Satrapi as a character. Perhaps this is a symptom of autobiography or autobiography in graphic format or who knows what, but I felt Satrapi as a character was always distant and two-dimensional. Perhaps, again, this was intentional – the story, after all, is more about events, circumstances, and people surrounding Satrapi than Satrapi herself. But I consistently felt as if Satrapi was revealing only very specific parts of herself in an attempt to string together a cohesive narrative (and don’t we all? But I found it ill-suiting here.)

Which brings me to the narrative structure. Again (and again), I’ll point out this was an autobiography. Is it fair that I ask it have a plot? I don’t know – I do believe a plot of some kind makes an autobiography more compelling. And while the Islamic revolution rages throughout the narrative, Satrapi’s coming-of-age did not feel particularly directional or with any arc. Each vignette included in the narrative adds up to her emerging as a young adult, but one does not follow the next naturally.

And, as a piece of personal preference (as if this entire review isn’t) – I was not a fan of the artistic style employed the in graphic portion of the graphic autobiography. The wood-block-like prints reinforced the two-dimensional feel I got from Satrapi-the-character.

I hate that I didn’t enjoy Persepolis; I feel down-right guilty about it. But there it is. Despite disliking it, I still think I’d recommend it to many. It’s a valuable piece of work and probably has more than I’m able to appreciate with my limited scope. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤