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Iran – An educative child’s eye view

PersepolisMarjane Satrapi is an Iranian author and illustrator, now living in France, who was born in what was then called Persia in 1969. Her parents were members of the intelligentsia, communists, and descendants of the Persian Royal family. Some family members had been imprisoned by the Shah. She was 10 when the Shah was overthrown. Her family had demonstrated against him, but were opponents of what became known as ‘The Islamic Revolution’ Aged 14, in 1984 Marjane was sent away to Austria by her family, who could see the writing on the wall for her as a young girl in a country becoming ever more fundamentalist.

In her foreword, to this book, Persepolis, The Story of a Childhood, published in translation into English in 2003, Satrapi demonstrates a deep love of her country and its cultured history. Part of her aim is to offset the West’s view of Iran as a country of belligerent, fundamentalist fanatics and terrorists :

I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians 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

And all of the categories of sufferers in the last sentence, were also members of her family, her close friends – and of course, she herself was in that last category.

So…..what is it which might lift this book out of being a harrowing, awful, account of suffering?

Though it certainly contains much harrow, this is a graphic novel – which might indeed be read by the young adult, as it is an personal account of Marjane’s childhood from aged 6 to when she left her home in 1984. But I would say it is primarily a graphic novel for adults. It has been compared, believably, to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which deals with the Holocaust, and its effects on survivors and their families, through the same medium.

Satrapi strip

This is of course – as all recounting and interpretations of history are – a subjective account. But the subjective view of events has its own truth, and when a narrator is clear enough to let the viewer see their subjectivity, it is enormously helpful. Academic tomes strive for objectivity, and sometimes believe they are completely objective, but all our views are coloured by our own cultural and personal backgrounds

Enough of the polemic

Marjane is a delightful little 6 year old – a child who is both political in her viewpoint (early reading was a comic book version of ‘Dialectical Materialism’) who can ‘play revolutionaries’ with her schoolfriends, wanting to be Che, Trotsky or Castro – whilst still holding to her first ambition – her family were atheists, but Marjane wanted to be a prophet when she grew up, her ‘Holy Book’ that of Zarathustra, the Persian, not the Arabic religion. Marjane spent quite a lot of time talking to God, who in her mind looked remarkably like Marx ‘except Marx’s hair was a bit curlier’

I read this with a mixture of laughter and tears. We view, often, globally, casting entire nations as devils or angels – my angels, your devils. We all can do with reminding that all nations are as full of individuals, with their own unique histories and stories, as our own.Marjane Satrapi

There is a further autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis 2, in which Marjane covers her difficult adolescence in Austria, and an eventual return to Iran. The author, as stated, now lives in France, has published more books, and is also an award-winning film-maker – Persepolis and her novel, Chicken with Plums, were both filmed, and she has both directed and written screenplays, both of her own work, and of others.

Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood Amazon UK
Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood Amazon USA