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March 22, 2010 / margikimball

Reviewing Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis

An excerpt from The Complete Persepolis.

To conclude our reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Complete Persepolis, pretend you are the book critic for a well known newspaper or literary/art journal. Instead of using simple, summarizing text, your reviews respond creatively to the work being reviewed. Perhaps you draw graphic narratives of your own or make your own illustrations to accompany your articles. Maybe you make videos in which you (and others?) discuss the merits of the book. Or maybe your articles are in the form of creative nonfiction, like short essays mimicking the style of the text.

Either way, your review can be short – at least one paragraph – but needs to contain insight into the text. Don’t summarize it. Don’t point to one thing you like. Instead, tell me what the book means to you (whatever that means) and maybe why it matters or doesn’t. You can illustrate your responses and send me any images or videos to upload and I will.

For your research, here are some existing reviews (of varying quality) from Persepolis from when it was first released:
Salon (this reviews the movie too)
The New York Times (with focus on second book)
Blog Critics
Nomad Reader
Pop Matters
Reviews on Amazon.com

So, be creative. Have fun with this. And let’s say it’s due by Wednesday morning, which will give you an extra day to be super duper interesting. Good luck!

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14 Comments

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  1. jennagrover / Mar 22 2010 6:00 am

    Although there are many themes within the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, the book had one overarching meaning for me. The meaning of the book was the constant idea that serenity comes when we are genuine to whom we are. This theme is played out in the main character Marjane’s life whether or not she is removed from the war in her home country, Iran. In Austria, Marjane experiments with philosophy, marijuana and sex, which shows her desperation to fit into a new awkward, foreign identity. In Iran, she fights depression as she longs to be loved and understood by her family. Since Marjane’s struggle with authenticity was so prevalent, I imagined Marjane’s journey in Persepolis to end in a climactic return to her dream of being a prophet, or a person who holds truth. The image of her as the sun and being looked at by her depiction of God reflects the alignment of her interior self and her outward actions, her female desire and the Iranian oppressive patriarchal system, and finally her insecurities and the love of her family. This all-encompassing theme matters because it is something that people define intimately and individually in a way that fits for them.

  2. Alex Cook / Mar 23 2010 4:26 am

    Persepolis to me was all about individuality and rebellion. She always stood out and did what she wanted to do, even if it meant her getting in trouble with the law. She spoke out, not only for herself, but for her country, and the women in it. This was really powerful to me, because here in America, we can mostly do whatever we want. On the other hand in Iran, you cant do a thing without being arrested or having something so simple and rediculous lead you down the road to jail or prison. I didnt know that it was this bad in other places of the world! It really makes you think how lucky we are to live in America, where we are free. I loved this book, i thought she had such an amazing life story and she always stayed true to what she was. I think it was instilled in her from when she was very young, and she was really lucky to have such amazing parents that supported her in every way possible. I think that since this was in a different perspective from an American point of view, it was that much more intriguing to read.

  3. Sergei Tuterov / Mar 23 2010 5:46 am

    Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi is an autobiographic visual novel that goes through episodic description of her life, starting from her early childhood in Iran, and ending her poorly planned marriage in her early adulthood. This follows the long line of highly publicized graphic novels that are based on real-life traumatic events. Persepolis can be compared to Art Spiegelman Maus; both books have very simplistic art, but describe very historically important events. This tradition of using the comic book media to tell serious stories, that originated in Europe, has made its way into the United States. These types of historical and edgy narratives are gaining popularity among our nations’ readers. The subject of an Iranian girl during their revolution also capitalizes on our nations’ current involvement in the Middle East, and her identity as the “other” certainly helps with the books popularity.

    I am not saying that the art or the story of Persepolis is not compelling, but compared to Fax From Sarajevo by Joe Kubert, that took very serious events and made them into a graphic novel, Persepolis is fairly week. There is a sea of graphic novels that are visually much more appealing then Persepolis, and an ocean of much better told narratives, making Perseplis a strange hybrid that is almost there. Maybe with greater focus on art or better writing, Marjane Satrapi could have made something truly unique, unfortunately she was short on both ends giving us a mediocre comic with an extraordinarily simplified story.

    This book would be perfect for younger readers, by teaching compassion and understanding, as well as the need for free speech. The simplistic art and the easily consumed narrative would be perfect for younger audience, with certain disgression. In fact, the questions that younger audience will ask of their parents would make both the children and the adults think and talk together about our current situation abroad and domestically.

  4. Jay B / Mar 23 2010 8:12 am

    The Persepolis to me was a very intriguing text for many reasons; the struggles faced growing up in the Middle East as well as being a woman in such times did not make for a easy childhood as well as the corruption of the government all enticed me as a reader more actively into the text.

    My favorite part of the book was how the author took a very serious topic of the Middle Eastern Oppression and made it into a very engulfing story to read. From the way this was presented it gave the reader an insiders look of the issues beyond what was shown by news broadcasters. By bringing this to life it brought the relevance of torture and death to a fore front but in a way that wasn’t disturbing but more so relative to our day and time. For me the illustrations used more fully engaged the reader into the text and truly brought it to life.

    The best part of this book, beyond the text itself was the way that it got the rest of the world to truly open their eyes and experience what the author lived through. It got people to stop avoiding the topic and really just take it in for what it was instead of giving them the option to flip the channel to avoid the tragedy.

  5. margikimball / Mar 23 2010 2:38 pm

    From CN:

  6. waitingforrain28 / Mar 24 2010 1:41 am

    I enjoyed Persepolis- both for it’s graphic style, and overall story. Satrapi’s images are simplistic, to the point of being childish, but the variation in detail from frame to frame is done skillfully, as is the use of patterns and occasional shading. As was true of Understanding Comics, I believe that the use of such variations is very important to the success of a graphic novel (comic, manga, etc) because it allows the reader to shift their focus between the images and text easily. In the case of Persepolis, I often noticed that Satrapi used detail to call attention to objects and people, as she does with the denim jacket that gets her in trouble with the Guardians of the Revolution, or the patterned nightgown of her grandmother as depicted before Satrapi’s first journey to Europe. These details stick out amid the otherwise stark lines and shapes prominent in most of the images throughout the book.
    As for the story itself, I thought that Satrapi’s rendering of her early life was well done. The book was a nice mix of personal, historical, and cultural experiences, and while I did notice the loss of political charge in the middle of the story, I was not very bothered by this. Not having known that there was a first and second book, I wouldn’t have noticed the transition between them very readily, and I think this has to do with the organic evolution of Satrapi’s story. As a depiction of her own life, I don’t think that the circumstances detailed by the last half of the book were inappropriate or boring. From what I have read prior to this book, people in countries like Satrapi’s Iran do their best normalize the terrible things that are going on around them, and while I find this normalization hard to imagine myself, I think that Satrapi did a good job illustrating this in her graphic novel. In both halves of the story, I fell that she really focused on the things that were “normal” in her life- such as playing with her friends (ie punching kids with nails, hehehe), teenage drama, and romance- but that all of these things were subtly shadowed by the tragedies of her homeland. The constant internal fight between a desire for happiness and the realization of suffering in Satrapi was interesting, and, at least to me, was communicated in a clear and personal way through her illustrations and text.
    Most of all, I think that this book is important because it does something to shed light on the things that all people have in common. In today’s America, Middle Eastern countries seem like a world away, alien, and while many of the books that have come from Middle Eastern authors seek to offer us a window into their culture, few address Western readers from a viewpoint like Satrapi’s- which seems to be a mix of both Persian and Western, and addresses very personal stories, not at all connected with her motherland, as well as historical issues.

  7. Carley Howell / Mar 24 2010 3:53 am

    Marjane Satrapi uses personal experience to invite her readers into a world pertaining only to her thoughts and her perception of life at that point. The text and graphics play off each other mimicking Satrapi’s main ideas. I appreciated having the graphics as another reference to help conceptualize the different stages her character went through. I found her character easy to transition with throughout the narrative, beginning young and naïve to becoming worldly and independent.

    As a child I too was clueless to the outside world, and conformed to my parents views about life and why things were the way they were. Most children begin that way and then they reach a certain point where they begin to cultivate their own interpretations of right and wrong. I remember as a child believing that my dad was considered Native American and a giant because to me he was the tallest and darkest person I had ever been around. This obviously changed once I realized that being 6’5’’ and really tan does not allude to abnormal characteristics. However, at age four I had not been exposed to anything different; I was naïve and did not diverge from my parent’s ideologies. It was not until I got older that I started challenging their viewpoints and questioning their thought processes. I was becoming my own person and wanted to start making decisions for myself. Like Marjane’s father, they allowed me to experiment on my own and learn from my mistakes. I appreciate their willingness to give me that freedom and trust.

  8. Jon Kaplan / Mar 24 2010 8:02 am

    Persepolis was an out of the ordinary book that gave a decent glimpse of revolutionary Iran going with Marjane Satrapi’s story of growing up which was unique and original. Satrapi painted a good picture in showing the differences from western culture and lifestyle. I thought it was interesting that her friends in Iran believe that they are very americanized and modern, but then have very traditionalist views on simple subjects.
    However, there were parts of the story that were not ideal. One part of the story I did not particularly enjoy is when Satrapi gets the guardians of the revolution to take away an innocent man so that she will not get in trouble for being with Reza. The whole story she is trying to be a rebel and be individual but this goes completely against everything she stands for. Instead of standing up to the guards and being herself, she conforms, and goes against her beliefs. Another part of the story I didn’t think went well was the end with the wedding. She goes in depth on the wedding, but then suddenly realizes she made a mistake the same day, then regrets it all saying she knew it would turn out that way. Finishing up, Persepolis was a good story on the whole. I think it held back on going more in depth in climactic points in the story, but I don’t think this detracted enough from the story to deter from its originality and uniqueness.

  9. judgeofparadise / Mar 24 2010 1:13 pm

    As a budding comic artist I remember reading the first half of Persepolis when I had first heard about it in Entertainment Weekly. For the longest time I remember thinking it was my favorite graphic novel.

    Up until I discovered that there were actually two installments to the omnibus.

    The first half of the Story where Satrapi is growing up in Iran and her life as a child and young teenager is the stronger half; I get the feeling that she had spent more time polishing this part of the tale. The simplistic way of drawing is akin to that of a child, and her way of understanding things fit well with this rather “childish” way of drawing. Something that struck me was that this is the half that we see the most detail in as well; with the theater being set afire and the bombing of her neighbors residence, the book conveys the atrocities of the war in a rather unsettling way. In sight of what was discussed in class, the cut up martyr might have been displayed in a cartoon style, but the event of the bombing she witnessed with her own two eyes was extremely graphic. In the “end” where Satrapi is sent to Europe, the tale seems to conclude (despite that her mother faints at the airport, as sad as it might seem, this seemed to be a better ending than how the second half of the book has) in a way that ties the story to that point up.

    The second half of the book seemed like an extremely long and drawn out epilogue of sorts. Nearly everything that took place in Europe was like something out of a high school drama and was so generic I was wondering if she had to add it all to make a page quota.

    The nail in the coffin for me was (as Kaplan earlier mentioned) is when she wrongfully accuses a man in order to avoid the Fundamentalists. The fact the man was -begging- and she laughs about it later really made me livid. Although I guess she gets her just desserts when her grandmother, her most loved relative, is disgusted by this horrible act and for a good while doesn’t even acknowledge her.

    As a reader of comics I also thought the ending was a little…. anticlimactic. Not that something amazing has to happen, but even the graphic novel I’m using for my Book Cover illustration project about the end of the world seemed to conclude better than this. (And all that incorporated was someone asking an old rival if they wanted tea….)

    So with these things said, I’m rating this based on the two volumes.

    Volume 1 – 9/10
    Volume 2 – 3/10

  10. margikimball / Mar 25 2010 4:17 am

    From Jimmy:

  11. margikimball / Mar 25 2010 4:31 am
  12. Freddy Eschrich / Mar 25 2010 4:49 am

    Visual Lineage And Textual Interaction in Persepolis
    Throughout the seminal work of Marjane Satrapi, entitled Persepolis, there is a clear line of artistic influence that seem to birth her specific stylistic application. While her influences seem to trace a slight lineage to early modernists such as Henri Matisse, it would seem that in reality her true muse lies with the post-modernists. This can be seen in the infinitely expressive yet conversely simplistic forms of artist Keith Haring. It is in this work that we see the initial formative style which helped to encourage the maturation of contemporary street art. Her style can even be related to graffiti artists such as Herbert Baglione, who specifically emphasizes a black and white color palate as well as a penchant for streamlined forms. It is important to note the utilitarian element of her art as well. Her decision to use these elementary forms serves the length of the novel well, in that it required an extremely high number of images. While this variable must have affected her decision to use such a style, we can’t let it detract form the value of the images which clearly demonstrate a keen understanding of both communication and aesthetics. More importantly we must note the mimetic interaction between text and art. Her sense of pragmatism can also be seen within the practicality of the text. She does not lose her audience with verbosity or hyperbolizing–indeed the presence of such stylistic liberties would muddle the homogenization of image and text.

  13. Schuyler Copeland / Mar 25 2010 6:18 am

    A prevalent theme that appeared to me during Persepolis was the struggle during hard times. Throughout the life of Marjane Satrapi she endured hardships, some simple that everyone experiences while others were horrors that some of us can’t even imagine. Unfortunately, I find the idea of the story more interesting than it actually is.
    I believe the beginning of the book works fairly well. The simple style and the way she glosses over horrific events such as torture and death translate very well into how a child would react to these situations. As the story progress this style works less and less to the point where it hardly seems relevant anymore. This is especially evident in the late middle of the book as Satrapi tells about her teenage years. The child-like style paired with her dragging on about her hormonal teenage problems really started to grate on my nerves. The way she reveals important events with a passing mention, such as the death of a friend, while going into great detail about more trivial matters, such as her being on birth control because she’s sexually active, seems like an inappropriate response for her age at the time to the events happening around her. It all culminates to create a very weak, disappointing ending, which with my experience, seems to be a common problem with graphic memoirs. (Again, that only applies to the few I have read!)
    That is not to say the book is without its merits however. It does offer at least an interesting read and a look into a culture many in the U.S. are clueless about. Gaining insight into how that historical period was perceived from an Iranian’s point of view was quite an interesting thing to read. However, when looking at the book as a whole it offers a bit of disappointment to go along with that interesting piece off history.

  14. margikimball / Mar 29 2010 1:07 am

    From Jena O.:

    In reading The Complete Persepolis, I was allowed into the world of a young woman bravely stubborn in remaining a free thinker and person. Marjane Satrapi’s confidence and beliefs were intensely admiring, given the atmosphere of where she lived: the tyrannical regime and war ravaged Iran. Her feisty humor was again admired, and appreciated given the events of her life and subject matter of her surroundings. Even though she was a child, she’d become fussy over wearing a veil, aware that it was morally and physically confining; children should have been immensely impressionable, but Satrapi was not. Her bravery at speaking out on what she believed in was appreciated, given that she attended a protest before she was even 15 years old. I do believe that the artwork of The Complete Persepolis, was oddly appropriate, for the cartoons lightened the mood while also, at times, created an eerie sense due to the subject matter being disturbing but presented as a cartoon, what one would associate with childish and comical. A profound scene in the book that stuck with me was where Satrapi the tween, is out in public rocking her American teen gear and is stopped, called a little whore and taken into custody. I found it ridiculous that here in America, one doesn’t have to hide themselves. America has been breading the rugged individual since our country was founded. I guess I was oblivious to the fact that an oversized jean jacket, a King of Pop pin, and some Nike high tops, were evident signs of a whore to certain people. This was just a silly cute scene at first, then just a sad scene. Though she has her “western,” pop culture attire, she must still conform to the Iranian Law, and maintain the appropriate outfit of a veil and robe.

    I found Satrapi’s humor consistent throughout the book, while also, at moment’s, she had endearing instances that reflected a different side of the character. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and getting a glimpse into a world I honestly would have never really taken the time to learn about.

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