Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon Books (2003). 160 pages. Tr. $13.95, ISBN: 978-0375714573
Plot: The first section describes the child Marji and her family, who are political and outspoken. She shows herself grappling with political ideas, trying to come up with her own conclusions, and she first decides that she is going to be a revolutionary and then she decides that she is going to support the king. When her grandmother visits, Marji learns about the hardships of the past and how her grandfather was imprisoned. There is an almost constant fear within the family that someone will be arrested for speaking out or not following the rules. Recently released political prisoners come to her house and she hears of the torture that they endured. She learns about her uncle’s own political imprisonment and is proud of him. When the Shah falls, she describes the treatment of the children of agents of the now-fallen government regime. As the goals of the new regime, and the even harsher actions of government agents, come to the forefront, Marji begins to wonder if her dreams will ever become a reality and her family is deeply concerned about the future of the country and their family.
Critical Evaluation: First rendered in French, Persepolis is a ground-breaking graphic novel. Told in an edgy, woodblock style with very harsh inky black and white, chunky illustrations, Satrapi manages to capture a very complicated world. She describes current and past political regimes, wars, and personal tragedies, all from the eyes of a young child. The unique perspective, having a child describe momentous national events in a very personal way, fills the story with a visceral urgency. The girl develops her sense of the world, her vision of her future, through turmoil. Every dream is either created or destroyed through the politics of the day. Because of this, Persepolis is a historical-minded memoir that merges the personal and the political in a way that creates instant access to the ideas and concepts that teenagers can understand and feel.
Reader’s Annotation: A young, headstrong girl builds her dreams and identity against the roiling turmoil of an Iran in war and political revolutions.
Author bio: Born in Iran, Marjane Satrapi now lives in France. Her family was political, with communist leanings, and life became very difficult for them as Iranian leaders became more fundamentalist and increasingly interested in stifling freedom and individual expression.
As a teen, Satrapi moved to Vienna to escape the hostile, sometimes dangerous, environment. She creates autobiographical graphic novels, and children’s books. Her work has won many awards in France and Persepolis was a critical smash when it came out. The second book in that series also received very positive reviews. Satrapi speaks out about civil rights all over the world and is a controversial figure for her political views.
Genre: Graphic novel/memoir.
Curriculum Ties: History – Iran, Iran-Iraq war.
Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the girl and her personality – Marji is a fun, tough, headstrong child.
The beauty of this book is in its images. Project some choice panels to hook the crowd.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: This is a politically controversial book. Keep the collection policy on hand, making sure that it notes that the library stocks materials with a variety of different perspectives.
Why Included: Having a personal and political story told in graphic novel format makes it very accessible to teens. It has received many positive reviews.