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Thread: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

  1. #1
    Registered User SilentMute's Avatar
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    May 2010

    Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

    I've been trying to read books about other cultures now that I'm an English tutor. Difficulties due to cultural differences are inevitable, particularly when the country you are from has relationship problems with the country they are from. About two-thirds of the people I help are Arabic. They are wonderful people, but every so often the the Arab-American issue interferes. I try not to listen to propaganda, but when you only hear one side of the story, it is difficult not to be influenced by it. I'm influenced by American news, they are influenced by their news, we believe different things about the same events...prejudices have developed. Such is life.

    This is why Persepolis interested me. I happened to come across it by accident. Barnes and Noble had recommended it to me based on some of my other selections (I have to admit--I love that feature). The story is autobiographical. The author was born in Tehran, Iran. The book starts out around 1979-1980 when she is ten years old. Iran's history seems to be full of constant take-overs, and I have to admit it was rather hard to keep track of all this during the first reading. If I understood everything correctly, when the story begins, Iran is under the rule of the Shah--who had apparently overthrown someone else. He in turn gets overthrown during the Islamic Revolution. Within Iran, there seems to be conflict between traditionalists and those who want to embrace more modern ideals. Those who felt persecuted by the Shah and were happy about the revolution wind up being persecuted by the new regime. The history was interesting because it provided a different viewpoint than the one I had heard growing up, particularly when it details the war with Saddam Hussein, and it also provided some interesting cultural notes about Islamic beliefs.

    The book wasn't exactly a "feel-good" book, though it might fit under the "coming-of-age" stories. It was a graphic novel, and sometimes I wonder if this made things more terrible because there were visuals as well as text. The author depicted a lot of violence. You saw a man urinating on another. There were references to dismemberment, torture, and rape. In one picture, the army locks up a movie theater and sets fire to it. Though the graphics were cartoon-like, it could still sicken you. However, despite all of this, the book had its moments of humor...and the author was successful in humanizing the people. It wasn't all about violence. The author was a normal teenager in many ways, and for those of us who grew up during the eighties, there is some nostalgia even to it (since the author had an interest in Western styles and music).

    One of the reviews I had read about this book had complained that the author wasn't quite as forthcoming about why her family and their friends had problems. It is true that the parents were Marxists, and many of their friends were communists--and that wouldn't make you popular in many countries (the U.S. included). Actually, I was surprised that the parents didn't have more problems than they did--and that they often thumbed their nose at the new rules and at authority...and in many ways encouraged their daughter to do the same. It wasn't just the new regime people had to look out for, according to the author. Neighbors turned against neighbors as food shortages and other problems arose. I don't know whether a person develops a fatalistic viewpoint when you live in such circumstances, but though it is normal for teenagers to rebel against "the man"...I have a hard time imagining why a person would do forbidden things in a country where you could get beaten, raped, tortured, and executed. I would either do something that would make a difference, or I wouldn't do it at all.

    There were actually quite a few outraged parents with this book (who wrote reviews). Some were shocked that a book that they thought was meant for children wound up having very mature themes. Of course, just because something is a graphic novel doesn't mean it is meant for younger audiences. In fact, there are many graphic novels that have adult themes...though I have to admit that the cutesy book cover would suggest that it is for younger audiences. However, most of the parents just had a hard time understanding the attitudes of the author's parents. They seemed too permissive and rather negligent. Of course, I imagine American parents probably receive the same criticism.

    The author claims that she wrote the book to educate people so that they don't judge all Muslims by a few extremists. I did actually learn a lot that will help me with the people I tutor. However, I can't say that I totally understand everything...and I don't know if I ever will. The problem is, when you live in certain circumstances, you often adopt certain beliefs. These beliefs are quite functional in those circumstances, but they will not be understood by other people who don't share those same experiences. In different circumstances, those same beliefs can become dysfunctional and be considered quite inappropriate. Even if most Muslims are not terrorists, their views about things are often still considered extreme by American standards, so I am not really that surprised that there are difficulties. I suppose the opposite is probably true...I guess it is possible we seem just extreme to them.

    Of course, one has to maintain hope. I try to comfort myself that many of the countries we were once enemies with, we now have better relations with them. It seems the way to peace starts with insults, fighting, and killing :/.
    I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty, I'm just glad to have a glass.

  2. #2
    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    May 2008
    Lost in the bell's curve
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    That's an excellent review, SilentMute. I do understand that most Muslims are not terrorists, but I'm not sure I will ever understand the chaos that seems to continually envelope the Middle East.
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its' own reason for existing." ~ Albert Einstein
    "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Bonzai
    "Some people say I done alright for a girl." Melanie Safka

  3. #3
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
    Reading, England
    Wasn't Persepolis turned into an acclaimed animated film?

    Your description reminds me of a book I read called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. She was a westernized Iranian university lecturer, who found herself in Iran at the time of the revolution. She described how difficult life became for all sorts of people, but in particular dissidents, religious minorities, and women. I think she was eventually forced from her job at the university, but she started a study group for a few of her female students in which they discussed Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller and Pride & Prejudice. No prizes for guessing which book they liked best.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  4. #4
    Registered User SilentMute's Avatar
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    May 2010
    @qimissung--That makes both of us...and thanks!

    @kev67--I heard that there was a movie made, though I never saw it advertised. I wonder if it came out in the United States. However, I did find this on Youtube:

    I always wanted to read Reading Lolita in Tehran. Thanks for reminding me of it.
    I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty, I'm just glad to have a glass.

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