Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1) by Marjane Satrapi (translated by Matia Ripa), was not what I expected. On one hand, I really had no idea what to expect; on the other hand, I had preconceived notions. But what it boils down to is, I am not sure I really liked this book. Or liked Satrapi. Many books I have come away with a feeling of, “I could be friends with that author.” Or at least, we could have a conversation as we have something in common. I have nothing in common with Satrapi. On the surface, she is a bit older, we have different tastes in music, and she an only child whereas I the older of two girls. The real meat and potatoes differences is, I grew up in a small town in Vermont where you had to be careful what you did as an adult cousin or family friend would see you and tattle on you to your parents. And that tattle was just a “hey I saw her today,” not a “hey I saw her do this and I am going to tell the police and now she is going to be arrested, tortured, raped and finally, killed.”
Sure, people picked on me about the clothes I wore and music I listen too, but never did I have to worry about a pair of jeans, a jean jacket, a music button, or my posters getting me jailed or killed. These extreme differences made me understand two things: I have had a lucky life and I am extremely glad I was able to finally read this book.
I found Satrapi an interesting person filled with contradictions. Such as her communist background and her privileged background. But it is a comfortable contradiction. How could you believe in the equality of communism but also still have a class system? Yet, they both fit as beliefs of one person and not really are contractions. It shows that life is not black and white, but there is gray, too. She is a stereotypical rebellions teen with her rebellion based on having a modern family; a family that had one of the last princes of Iran; who was religious and worldly. The fact she is an only child must play a role in all her thoughts, feelings and actions. She is selfish. Not always nice. But shows she also tries to be a good person. She tries to stand up for herself. She, like some of her friends, mimic what they have been told. Yet, she has very independent and strong opinions of family, her country and herself. She is a child of the punk era. She is a child who grew up in a repressive regime but knew freedom. Many times, this boiled down to, she was right and “you/the other” was wrong.
There is a lot going on and while book two was not on my TBR, it is now. Satrapi does not hold back, she tells you what is going on and she does it vividly. Yet, it is not graphic to be just graphic and gory. She is telling you this is what happened: a man was tortured, a man was drowned, a man was dismembered, girls were raped and executed under both the old and new regimes.
There is no question in my mind why this book has been banned and challenged. A 2013 article said that when people feel about things, they are going to have opinions. And therefore, there are going to be strong reactions. Some people would see this book as being insensitive to Muslims and is Islamophobic. Others would say that it is too violent. Others would take offense that Satrapi talks back to not only her teachers, but her parents as well. Of course, let us not forget language. There are most appropriately used words but not “very nice” descriptions. This story shows war; injured soldiers; women in full veil; how loyalties changed; how neighbors became enemies; how people used the system to get ahead; and much darkness of the human condition. I would go as far as to say some people might challenge/ban this book since Muslims are shown not as the “blow-them-up-villain” but as people who live, laugh, dance, play cards and Monopoly, have parties, love and hate. You know, as people.
This is not an easy read. This is not going to be a “Oh that was fun. Let’s do it again.” It is gut-wrenching, thought provoking and above all else one hell of a ride.