Books Reviews

Iranian girl’s coming-of-age story resonates beyond borders

ISTANBUL – It is fear that makes us lose our conscience; it is also what turns us into cowards.

The theme of fear is woven throughout author Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis: Volumes 1 and 2, and it is true for everyone.

I have a lot to say about this book. It is Satrapis’ own story about a young girl named Marjane’s coming-of-age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

I learned a lot from this book, which uses a comic book style to tell the story.

This is the stuff they do not teach you in high school, and I feel like I am able to retain information a lot more because it was told in a way that was so relatable to me. The way she uses storytelling with historically accurate events and interweaves those together makes it an impactful book.

The themes of fundamentalism, communism and anarchism, traditional versus modern views and values – the philosophy of resignation, rebellion, and individualism and the price of freedom, fear, and bravery – are all in this story.

She also talks a lot about what the war does to families and how it impacts her and her family members.

What I really liked was how Marjan was not afraid to point out the low points in her life or her failures at all. She was brutally honest with that, which made it more true, vulnerable and enjoyable.

Not that I enjoy reading about people’s failures, but she was not afraid to go there and show you all the truths.

Although I grew up in a vastly different environment than Marjan did, I was able to relate to her in the way she struggled to find herself. She was constantly reinventing herself, but she always came back to the truth of who she truly is.

That is something that resonated with me, so I related to her.

One of my most favorite panels was when her uncle Anoosh was executed and she finally banished God from her life. She blamed God for not being there, or doing nothing. That little girl yelled at God to get out of her life, that she never wanted to see him again.

This depicts how strong her relationship with her uncle was, that she could abruptly give up the comfort she had found in God whenever she felt overwhelmed.

Another standout panel is about her Austria trip. It greatly demonstrates the conditions that people live in, that others cannot quite understand because they will never relate to them.

She is sent to a Catholic boarding school where she feels deeply out of place. After being expelled from the school, she gets into an argument with one of the nuns. She ultimately returns to Tehran after four years in Vienna, after her life spirals out of control.

Marjane is having difficulty adjusting to life in Vienna because the culture is so different. Marjane experiments with sex, drugs, finding friends, and losing them.

After all that, she becomes so homesick that she gets super depressed and starts sleeping on the streets.

The one thing she admonished her parents not to ask her later, when she arrived home, is what happened in Austria.

The big feelings she had – shame, guilt, and, above all, the good emotions from the experiences she had in Austria – reflected the huge courage she had to take to step out of her restricted zone.

I have to highlight a passage in the introduction that I really think shows her intentions in writing this book:

 “This old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.”

As an Iranian who spent more than half of her life in Iran, I know that this message is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also strongly don’t want those who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

“One can forgive, but one should never forget.”

She did an amazing job writing what she intended. I feel that more people should see that the media’s warped picture of Middle Eastern nations as terrorist brethren – which is being reinforced by Islamophobia – is not a realistic portrayal of those countries.

Needless to say, I enjoyed this book, I loved every image, every word on every page.

I would recommend this book to everyone, especially to someone who wants to get into graphic novels or someone who does not know much about them and who thinks that graphic novels are all like comic books, because this definitely is not.

It deals with a lot of serious issues, but it is also very enjoyable in terms of storytelling.

This book was animated into a movie, by Satrapi herself. She worked with Sony Pictures to create an amazing film that I think everybody should watch, especially anyone who is coming-of-age.

I believe everyone can find a little of themselves in Marjane.

Beren Deniz Öcek is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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