“In life you’ll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance… Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.”
I mentioned in my last review that I’ve been reading books for this Cannonball, so far, that are out of date. I mean that they are books published within the last ten to twenty years, but not within the last year, that it feels like everyone but me has already read. This has made me wonder – can books be out of date? It seems like current books – meaning not written more than, say, twenty years ago – are supposed to be read as soon as they’re published. This is how it works for TV and movies, of course. However, I’ve found that I don’t think about books that way, and I don’t care whether they were published two years ago or fifty. Books live forever. This is amazing.
Do graphic novels live forever? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. If there is such a thing as a classic graphic novel, I hope Persepolis is deemed one by whoever deems things, because it deserves to be canonized somehow. I know that comic book fans consider certain works classic – just ask my graphic artist brother-in-law if you want a fully developed theology of Superman – but most of us outside that community would not know about them.
I’m dancing around the actual review of Persepolis because I feel badly equipped to do it. There are art theorists who say that accessibility by non-experts – meaning dumbos like me – is not important in the evaluation of merit. I don’t know whether they’re right, but I know that while I didn’t fully get everything happening artistically in Persepolis, I loved it.
The story is easy to follow, astonishingly so considering its subject matter. I have a sister who is a scholar on the Middle East, and she has never been able to penetrate my thick American head with her explanations of the politics there (although she is a gifted teacher and writer). Reading Persepolis, it felt like nothing could be clearer than the 20th-century history of Iran.
The story is framed by the author’s autobiography of her childhood, but it is so much more than that. Using relatives’ stories and gorgeous black and white images, the book covers several generations of life in Iran though the experiences of one bourgeois family. The narrator Marji is a child throughout the book, and the pictures convey both her deep emotion and the humor that is part of every loving family. Marji is an unusual child with a vivid imagination and confident personality. I adored the images of what God looked like in her head (like Karl Marx), and the exploration of her childhood piety. This is probably because I was a sincerely devout kid myself, and I can’t remember another time I’ve seen that experience depicted so well or so compassionately.
I don’t know enough about the artistic side to say much about it, other than that the elegant drawings perfectly set the tone of the story. There were parts of the book when a character was telling a story from history or memory, and it seemed like the artist was referencing some ancient style of illustration. It was haunting. I can’t expertly analyze the artwork, but I thought it was beautiful.
Persepolis is a hugely enjoyable experience. (I can’t call it a “read” since the art is so integral – comic book fans, what do you call the experience of consuming graphic novels?) It is an adept autobiography, an unusual comic book, and an amazingly accessible summary of Iran’s recent history. I highly recommend it.