Not serious enough to be a history book, not childish enough to be a cartoon: “Persepolis” is a cross between an autobiography and a comic, with a pinch of dark humor. In this album, Marjane Satrapi illustrates and writes about her life growing up under the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
The story takes place in Teheran, where Satrapi lives with her parents and grandmother in a time when Iran is still under the rule of the Shah, who exerted an absolute monarchy in the country. In 1979, after months of demonstrations, the Shah gets overthrown and the Islamic Republic gains control of the country.
Satrapi’s comic takes place in this context of revolutions, demonstrations and the changes from a monarchy to an Islamic Republic whose hope is to reach the ideals of a democracy. When the reader first encounters Marjane, she is a naïve eight-year-old dreaming of becoming the next prophet, but eventually matures into an engaging woman.
Throughout the story, the readers grow fond of Marjane’s character, of her mischiefs at school, her rebellion against the conservative school system, and later on, her desire to explore her feminine side. As the story advances and the political situation evolves, the readers also develop a strong connection with her family and her entourage: may it be her father defying the authorities and encouraging her to the same or her mother insulting the principal and the school system. The characters’ genuine and loving personalities start to materialize.
What distinguishes Satrapi’s work from other autobiographies is the simplicity in which she tackles the issue. She succeeds in mixing heavy matters, such as Marxist theories and political ideologies with the everyday worries of a twelve-year-old young girl.
The monochrome drawings and the minimalistically drawn characters add a an aesthetic that distinguishes “Persepolis” from other comics. Indeed, the intense blacks and clean whites play in favor of Satrapi’s narration, balancing harsh dialogues and actions with soft drawings. The title of her comic book, which is the name of an old capital city of Iran, is also revealing. It symbolizes the mystical, mythological, historical, and majestic Persia of Antiquity. She uses the world she created both as a refuge for herself and for those who, like her, seek comfort in a world too cold for little girls dreaming of being prophets.
If Satrapi would have chosen to focus on the struggle of living under the Republic, excluding her life as a woman, her piece would have been less powerful. Merging both the struggle of a Persian woman growing up in between the East and the West, and of a citizen with liberal views under an extremist regime, Satrapi’s work still applies to today’s political and social situation.