So people have been raving about this book for years and, as per usual, I am so late to the station that the train has already traversed the planet and come all the way back to drop its passengers off. It wasn’t until a friend literally pressed the book into my hand and commanded me to read it that I finally did. This time I should’ve gotten on the train sooner.
So why didn’t I? Well people kept raving about the book, but every time I looked at it I was put off by the art, starkly black and white with small, smudgy words. It seemed inaccessible, dark and dreary. And well, it’s a story set against the backdrop of war, so dark and dreary can hardly be avoided, but inaccessible it was not.
And even with all the far and the black and white this book still managed to be both warm and compassionate. And funny. This is the heartwarming memoir of Marjane Sartrapis upbringing in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It tells the story of her day-to-day life as politics and war completely change it. We see the contrast between homelife and public life as people try to retain their old lives in a new oppressive regime. Satrapi does a brilliant job of grounding the tale in the universal experience of growing up – the politics influence and shape, but never overpower, her story.
What I like most about war stories, or stories set in troubled areas with politics I’ve long given up on understanding, is the ability to pull, from the troubled masses, actual lived experiences. Stories like this put faces on people. It’s so easy to be separated by cultural practices, vast amounts of geographical space, small amounts of time, and forget that each and every one of the people you see on the news, every Syrian refugee is a living, breathing, actual person with real thoughts, feelings, and dreams.
“Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.“
And so Persepolis is never overtly political, Satrapi never tells you the answer. The heartbreaking fact is that it’s simply the story of life through the eyes of a child who just wants her family and friends to be safe. And if that doesn’t warm your heart… you don’t deserve to have it broken in the first place.