Saturday, October 17, 2009

Persepolis: The story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

***Spoiler Alert!!!**** Although I was initially put off by the format of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis I found I was quickly drawn into the story by her charming and lively depiction of herself as a 10-year-old girl coming of age during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Marjane, her family and friends shatter all stereo-types I held of what it means to be a devout Muslim and gave me a view of the "revolution" contrary to what I have seen in the news and other media. Three central themes stood out to me as I read and I found myself unable to put the book down as I craved to understand this individual Muslimah. First, was her understanding of a compassionate, and personal god. Young Marjane considered herself to be a very religious person (pg 6) and seemed to draw strength from her understanding of god as she knew him. In several frames she depicts herself embraced in Gods arms and refers to him on a few occasions as her "friend." This depiction is contrary to the relationship with God I had come to believe the average Muslim had. Perhaps it was this personal understanding of God which allowed Marjane and her family to practice their faith without the need for militaristic approaches to obeying the orders of the Qur'an? The second surprising concept I saw it the book was Marjane's families desire to see her as a whole and unique individual. They praised her for having independent thought and seem to take on what I considered to be a fairly westernized concept of allowing her to experiment with life in general. In particular, her family did not discourage her from believing she was going to be a prophet- not even when they were asked to come into her school to talk with the teacher about it. When Marjane was older her parents allowed her to listen to music like Michael Jackson and Iron Maiden, let her wear Nike sneakers and music buttons and jean jackets. Before I read this book I based my ideas on what a family expects of their young Muslimah off of my Muslim friends and off of what I have seen demonstrated in other media. Even my very "liberal" Muslim friends who are allowed to attend medical school despite being women are required to defer to their fathers for all decisions they make...despite having the brains to pursue a career as a doctor, the family's GREATEST hope was still that they would find a "nice Muslim man" and settle down, and if they did not find one themselves, their father would find one for them. In the Muslim families I have known there was no emphasis on young women developing into unique individuals as Marjanes parents and Grandmother seemed to hope for her. I found this quite refreshing The third concept that struck me is perhaps an extension of the second concept, and that was the families involvement in the counter-culture. Marjanes parents frequently demonstrated against the order of the "Revolution," including the wearing of veils or Hijabs by women. They continued to throw parties, play card games and drink alcohol after they were outlawed. This rebellion went back at LEAST to Marjanes grandfather's generation. Her grandmother told her stories of times when her grandfather was imprisoned for his opposition. Marjanes uncle Anoosh was directly involved in counter-military activity and faced arrest, torture and ultimately execution for his convictions. Its no surprise then that Marjane idolized socialist like Cha Guavera, Fidel Castro, and others. Through out the book it is unclear what Marjanes parents religious beliefs are, as they did not seem overtly religious or atheistic- the best I can determine is they wanted a clearer distinction between what we call in this country, "church and state." As for Marjane herself, we see after her uncle is executed she tells god to get out of her life, that she never wanted to see him again and she changed her career ambitions from being a prophet of god to becoming a chemist like Marie Curie. The end of the book I found rather anti-climactic to the point of wondering if there wast a chapter or two missing. I felt let down that the author gave no resolution to the series of events that forced her from her home country. The reader is left to wonder if she ever went back to Iran, to wonder why she never again lived with her parents, to wonder if she ever became further involved in the counter military or counter oppression in her country, if her parents ceased their involvement in protests after she left and more. There was no answer to these questions in this book. Overall, I was very pleased with the book. The characters were engaging and the format was unusually pleasant. I would very much like to see the motion picture version of this book-although I must confess that much of that allure comes form hoping the end of the film will give more in site to Marjanes later life than the book did. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to a friend, particularly to one who enjoys dispelling popular stereotype!

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