Monday, January 24, 2011

Under the Veil: The Complete Persepolis

One of my personality quirks is that it often takes me a long time to decide what I want to read.  The other night I was hovering around my bookshelves in my typical fashion, when my boyfriend pointed out that I hadn't yet read The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  I hadn't read a graphic novel in some time, so I pulled it off the shelf and began to read.  

The story revolves around the author's childhood and young adulthood as an Iranian woman.  At the beginning of the book, Satrapi gives a short account of thousands of years of Iranian history which was a helpful refresher for me.  I had read another autobiographical book from an Iranian woman, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, so I knew a bit the Islamic Revolution beforehand.  Though Nafisi described Iran in great detail, her story of the Revolution is from the perspective of an adult and Satrapi's is from that of a child.  Gradually Satrapi and the reader learn of the changes occurring and how the population reacts to the evolution of their society.  One funny scene is when a ten-year old Satrapi and her classmates have no idea what to do with the veils that the regime has imposed upon them.  So they use them in their games in a manner that would be frowned upon by Islamic clerics.  As the narrative continues, Satrapi outlines how the laws in Iran become more and more oppressive for young people in Iran.  Her parents end up making the painful decision for her to go to school abroad so as to ensure her safety. They felt that because of her education, she might be targeted by the regime, and therefore Satrapi went to Austria to continue her schooling.  

In the course of events, Satrapi ends up back in Iran where she feels lost.  There have been many changes during her time abroad and she feels that she has little in common with other women her age.  Mostly they seem preoccupied with getting married, whereas Satrapi is thinking about her career goals and what she should do with herself now that she has returned to Iran.  The theme throughout this book is how Satrapi feels that she is an outsider, both in Austria and in the evolving climate of her homeland.  In Austria she is alienated from her classmates due to a language barrier and her experiences in a war-torn country.  When she returns, Satrapi finds that she no longer recognizes the country she left four years before.  

One of the aspects of this novel that I liked the best is how honest Satrapi is with her readers about her faults.  Along the way, she uses drugs, and, for a short period of time, sells drugs to her classmates as well.  Her relationships with men have little success, but her ability to adapt to her surroundings allows her to strike up good friendships.  This honesty gives a lot of authenticity to her story and makes her easier to relate to as a flawed heroine.  Although I am by no means an expert on comic art, I think that her simplistic style allows you to focus on her words rather than the visuals.  Though Art Spiegelman's drawings are more detailed than Satrapi's, her personal writing style reminded me a great deal of his Maus trilogy. Both convey life under a dictatorship in a manner that people from peaceful, democratic nations can identify with.  I would highly recommend this novel for anyone looking to learn about the political situation in Iran, or a person who wants to read a compelling autobiography.          

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