I don’t have a lot of well-formed thoughts about Persepolis. I understand, every bit, why it’s a valuable (graphic) novel, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as part of the standard reading curriculum for American teens, who can use all the diverse perspectives they can get. In fact, I think the classroom — under the tutelage of a sympathetic instructor — could be the ideal place for a book like this, because it allows for the integration of historical background in which independent readers (particularly younger ones) may not be fully versed, or may not be motivated to explore further.
From the United States (+born afterward) perspective, the most that I really understood about the Iranian Revolution was that it ushered in a religious regime that was oppressive for women and, importantly, that kept American citizens hostage for over a year. Almost amusingly, the mention of the US hostages in Persepolis was barely a blip. After initial shock at the portrayal of the Satrapi family’s utter apathy toward the Americans, I almost had to laugh at myself. Why WOULD they care? People they knew personally, their fellow Iranians, were also being arrested, detained, and killed. Why shed tears over American strangers? But on this side of that contentious relationship, it was pretty much all we cared about.
The reminder that my perspective was so one-sided strengthened my resolve to finish Persepolis and try to take it to heart as much as possible. To cut to the chase: yes, I feel that this reading experience was valuable. Satrapi gave voice to nuances I couldn’t have previously understood, like why liberal, non-religious, socially conscious Iranians would have supported the overthrow of the previous shah in favor of what, in short order, became a fascist theocracy. There’s also something to be said about the emotional resonance of reading a first-person perspective and how that triggers empathy.
But, honestly, while this was a good history lesson for me, I just can’t say I connected with it. I don’t mean that in a superficial way where I don’t “relate” to Satrapi and therefore don’t connect with her; it’s more that there was something kind of detached and affected about the way her story was presented that failed to truly engage me. This was an academic experience rather than a visceral one. That is valuable in its own right, but in a personal review where I get to weigh subjective concepts like “Did I like it?” the answer is only “Kinda.” Still — this was a book club pick, and we will be discussing next week, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that talking it over with other people who may have different background knowledge about the Revolution and/or who had a different experience with the book will end up enhancing my own perception of it. After all, as I said earlier, I think the great value of a story like this is its ability to educate, and maybe reading it in isolation is only the first piece of that.