Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” is an emotional and enlightening graphic memoir

Paperback cover of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis this week and it was fantastic. Much like Art Spiegelman’s The Complete MAUS, comics have proven once again to be an effective and emotive means of telling personal narratives. This graphic memoir is packed with humour and wit but also full of heartbreaking tragedy, violent horrors and conflicts against rage-inducing oppressive ideals.

An early panel from Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis set when she was a child with the caption: "I wanted to be justice, love and the wrath of God all in one."

The memoir begins with Marjane Satrapi as a child during the 1979 Islamic Revolution (as it is called in the comic). We see how the authoritarian regime of the Shah was replaced with Islamic Fundamentalism, which was not representative of the political aims of all the revolutionaries — many of whom were leftists, several of whom were later executed for their loyalty to their progressive principles.

The first half of the book explores Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, which she spends reading up on philosophy and Marxist theory as well as learning about her own family history of resistance. We see how the new oppressive laws affect Satrapi, her family, her friends and her neighbours. And then Iraq declares war on Iran and people Satrapi knew either end up fleeing or dead.

Another panel from the first half of the memoir when Satrapi was a child where she tells her friend: "Don't you know that when they keep saying someone is on a trip it really means he is dead? At least that was the case with my grandpa."

Passionate and brave, Satrapi remains outspoken and regularly lands herself in trouble. And without spoiling too much, Marjane Satrapi eventually had to leave Iran, too. The second half starts in Vienna, but her troubles had barely begun.

There’s so much I loved about this memoir. The narrative covers a great number of political tragedies as well as more personal ones. I’ve often heard that the “personal is political” and Persepolis is a great example. Satrapi weaves her personal strifes into the commentary of the societies she finds herself living in. Whilst abroad, for example, we don’t get lengthy sections on racism but we see several scenes of racism directed at Satrapi and what effect this had on her.

Satrapi’s art style is also incredible. It feels minimalistic and yet every single character is distinct. I never found myself lost as to who was who, which speaks to her attention to detail as an artist. Following the dialogue was also very easy, something a few comics I’ve read in the past haven’t always managed to get right, but Persepolis is easy reading.

Another panel from the first half of the memoir, which depicts the first and only time Satrapi's parents took her to a protest. Satrapi sees violence for the first time. In the penultimate panel, Satrapi sees a man stab a female protester in the leg.

This was definitely one of my favourite books I read this year and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who have snobby opinions about comics.