Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Marjane Satrapi's comic book memoir illustrates life in Iran as a young teenager.

What if one day, the government decided to outlaw parties and CDs? Or passed a law stating that women couldn't wear short skirts and men couldn't wear short sleeve shirts? That's what happened to Marjane Satrapi in 1980. She grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

Now an adult, Satrapi has recently published a comic book of her experiences in Iran. "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood" combines the genres of comic book, memoir, and historical textbook to create an engaging mélange of childhood reflection and political disorder in a country misunderstood by most.

Satrapi illustrates and narrates the moments of her life in Tehran from ages 6 to 14 in simple black and white comic strips, chronicling the experiences she faced in her country when the overthrow of a tyrannical Shah led to the victory of a fundamentalist regime during the Islamic Revolution. She reveals in a startling yet convincing manner the ways in which her life was affected when secular Iran was transformed into a deeply conservative Islamic state.

The daughter of educated, middle-class left-wing parents and the great-granddaughter of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi exudes intelligence, wit and individuality as a child. She is thoroughly knowledgeable in Marxism and the suffering of children in Palestine, but her childhood is far more than burying her head in books and imagining her life as the surrogate Fidel Castro.

As a little girl, Satrapi dreams of one day becoming a wise and righteous prophet ("Celestial Light" God would call her), as well as a revolutionary who would end all suffering of old people. Then she meets her Uncle Anoosh, a nine-year political prisoner who holds strong opposition for the overthrown Shah. Satrapi and her uncle develop a strong, loving bond -- until he becomes a victim of the Islamic regime. Satrapi gradually begins to understand that God cannot prevent even the worst suffering, and revolution does not always produce positive change.

The most compelling aspects of these comic strips are the small acts of defiance that Satrapi, her family and friends do to maintain sanity under the weight of a fundamentalist regime. Behind closed doors and away from the accusing eyes of the new government, the women rip off their hijabs (head scarves) and everyone has parties, listens to music, dances and does all the things that the Islamic regime bans for being un-Islamic or shamefully Westernized. It seems silly that her parents would go so far as to smuggle into Iran an Iron Maiden poster by sewing it into her father's coat lining, or that jewelry-wearing was banned, but what seems strangely illegal is met with punishments far from trivial.

As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult not to fall in love with the charming young Satrapi. Her humor and wit are most evident when, at age 13, she gets caught wearing a Michael Jackson pin and worms her way out of trouble by claiming that her pin is actually of Malcolm X, leader of Black Muslims in America. In a side note she adds, "Back then, Michael Jackson was still black."

Satrapi illustrates her comics in a simple style, but don't let that fool you. With her easy strokes and uncomplicated caricatures, she makes vivid the details of everyday life in Iran, details that humanize the news stories that we hear so often about Muslim countries.

While the story that she tells is both an autobiography and a political account, Satrapi tends to use the politics of her time as a backdrop for what is primarily the story of her childhood, just as her title implies. Satrapi has written "Persepolis" in the passionate, humorous, and sincere tone of a young teenager growing up under a repressive regime.

Yvonne Wong, 17, is a student at Lowell High School in San Francisco.

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