Persepolis I & II - Marjane Satrapi

I needed to fill in the "book about/by an immigrant or refugee" prompt on the Pop Sugar challenge, so I picked up the combined version of Persepolis I and II. I have been meaning to read this for a long time, but just never got around to it. I am so glad I made the time to read it this weekend - although it is a memoir of coming of age in Iran, it also reads as a history lesson about a part of the world that is often used by political foes inside and outside the country but is little understood.

 

Satrapi starts the first volume talking about the demonstrations and protests against the Shah. Her parents were educated upper/middle-class and politically active. Surprisingly, they and their friends would have interesting cultural and political discussions in front of, and involved, Marjane (who was maybe 8 or 9 at the time). Marjane asked a lot of questions in this early section so that the reader can understand this chaotic time. Her parents don't allow her to publicly protest with them, but she does find her way to a couple of protests, one that turned violent. Then the Shah was removed and the Islamic Revolution came about, with the in-between time a time of hope but also of uncertainty. Her parents were now protesting the Revolution, so home was for the most part a safe haven. That safe haven was put to the test often by the arrival of the Iran-Iraq war. After a few years and countless bombings, Marjane's parents send her to Austria to finish schooling and stay safe. Man, I hope history teachers use this first volume to teach what happened. There was even a mention of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

 

Life in Austria as a war refugee was tough for Marjane. This part of the book dragged a lot; suffice to say, without her parents intelligence or thought provoking discussions, Marjane drifted a lot. She basically did a shit ton of drugs (pot, LSD mostly) and lusted/loved after men who were assholes. She moved from flat to flat, met a lot of white people who were pretty shallow or hypocrites. Luckily, her drug addiction (her words, not mine) did not prevent her from finishing school with decent grades (she kept her drug taking to the weekends).  Finally after having a mental break down, she went home to Iran.

 

But Iran was not the same after additional years of war. She made it back in time for the cease-fire/truce, but Iran was not the same. The Revolution was still in power, but it was the war that gave them real power and it is why they wanted to keep the war going. The black market was pretty much the only infrastructure intact and running efficiently. Marjane became politically aware again thanks to her parents' influence, but she drifted again without any goals of her own. Her parents wanted her to go on to university, which she did after meeting her long term boyfriend. Her art and her politics evolved into a mature but still fiercely democratic work. However, she chafed under the Islamic rule pertaining to relationships and ended up married to her boyfriend. The marriage was a disaster from the first day, but a new development gave her much more to work with: the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the beginning of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. She goes into detail about why and how the Iranians did not care at all for the Kuwaiti refugees or the region's stability in general. This was a whole new side of the war to me and kept me very interested in those last pages. Her shitty marriage ended and she left Iran for good, moving to France to study and work on her art more.

 

There is a deep connection with Iranian culture and heritage as well as with family. In particular, there was a constant sharing of history and future hopes stemming from her grandmother and mother to Marjane. None of Marjane's family talked down to her or made her feel stupid for asking questions about politics or culture. She knew martyrdom and political executions intimately because they happened to her family and friends. She is proud of her family and to call herself an Iranian, but does not blindly give loyalty to a government that she feels is evil.

 

I want a copy for my personal library now.