Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
I confess immediately that I am shamefully ignorant when it comes to Middle Eastern history. I’d heard of things like the Islamic Revolution in passing, but I had no idea what it was, where it happened and what effects it had on the countries involved.
Subsequently, I went into Persepolis entirely blind. I’d heard a few Booktubers talking about it, so when I spotted it in my local comic book store I snapped it up. (The daughter of the owners also highly recommended it. Bonus!) I had no idea really what to expect – such was my ignorance.
What an education. The complex bits – the introduction to the culture and politics of the region, and the background leading up to the events – are presented through the lens of young Marjane, so they’re simplified without being patronising. As she grows up she shows her struggles with identity – during her education in Europe and her return to Iran – in an unflinchingly honest way, both in terms of the history and her own attitudes. (If you want to pull a selection of awkward faces, by the way, check out the two-star Goodreads reviews describing “the main character” like it’s not a memoir. Brutal.)
If I’ve discovered one thing it’s that a graphic novel is a perfect vehicle for learning. It allows you to present difficult and infomation-heavy topics in a way that’s easy to absorb without having to patronise or dumb it down. Persepolis is definitely for graphic novel and history nerds, but everyone should read it if they have a chance – it’s an insight into a country and culture that was certainly never included in the curriculum when I was in education.