Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reader's Diary #460- Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis

When I signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge at the beginning of this year, I chose the smallest goal possible: 6 books. I'd not read a graphic novel before and had no idea how long each would take or if I'd even enjoy them. Here it is not even 2 months into the challenge, and I've already completed my 4th. Ranging from the 153 page Persepolis to the 612 page The Absolute Sandman, Vol.1 , none of these books have taken me more than a week. That's not bragging, I suspect it's just the nature of this genre. Add to that the pretty amazing storytelling and I just may be hooked. I must say, though, that I've enjoyed the black and white, artsy-fartsy ones (Persepolis, It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and Louis Riel) better than the colour, comic-looking one (The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1). Just two months in, four books down and I'm already turning into a graphic novel snob.

Persepolis is also my third book about 20th century Iran. The first was Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter and the second was Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. All memoirs, too. Anyone know any other Iranian books? Perhaps an Iranian challenge is in order. I only wish I could find one told from a male perspective for a change.

Persepolis is probably the funniest of the three Iranian books mentioned above. It's just as graphic (well, more so, I guess), but Satrapi's humour adds a much needed balance. Not only does it provide relief to the reader but reflects the fun times that had to break through all the oppression. When you set out to read books like this you always anticipate being disgusted with mankind ("how can one person do that to another?" etc) but time and time again they make me feel more optimistic than defeated. If the human spirit can be strong enough not only endure such hardships but actually have laughter as well, well that makes me feel all warm and giddy inside.

A favourite scene involves Satrapi being stopped by two women of the "Guardians of the Revolution" for wearing Nike shoes, denim, and a Michael Jackson button. There was a very real risk she'd be arrested and possibly whipped for her appearance. When questioned about the button, Satrapi says it's actually "Malcolm X, the leader of black Muslims in America." The caption at the bottom of the frame says, "Back then, Michael Jackson was still black."

I also enjoyed the artwork, especially the scenes in which she stressed repetition: soldiers, groups of girls covered in veils, protesters and the dead. Virtually cloning the people, Satrapi was able to make many strong statements using one single technique.

The real highlight of the book, however, was the precociousness of child Satrapi. She is such a lovable, smart, and melodramatic little girl that I wonder if the sequel, featuring a teenage Satrapi, will be as appealing.


Anonymous said...

This one actually sounds charming in an offbeat kind of way. A quick check of my on-line library catalouge and hey.., we even have the DVD based on the comic strip -- putting that on hold too! Thanks to you and Teddy this is the third graphic novel I've put on hold this week. Not sure if I've been knocked off the fence yet though, we'll see...

Beth F said...

I am with you in your assessment of graphic novels. I hadn't read even one before January. Now I'm almost done with the GN challenge -- and I signed up for 12 books!

Ok, so the Bone books are short and go fast, but still, I had no clue that the storytelling could be so good.

I've seen the movie Persepolis, and I had planned on reading the two books for the GN challenge. I'll be reviewing them if I get around to reading them. My county's reading program has made the two Persepolis books the books of the year, so the waiting list at the library is enormous! But I'll get to them eventually.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Have you seen the film yet? It's on my shamefully long list of must sees and now I shall have to add the original book to my must reads. Anybody know how to get more hours in a day?

Kate said...

The film was absolutely wonderful - I saw it at the Thunder Bay film festival last year and it received a standing ovation at the showing that I attended. I've been planning to read the book ever since - I think that my friend has a copy.

Sherrie said...

Hi John,
I am doing this challenge also. I rather like the comic book color ones, but also like the black and white ones. I have another post for the 2nd Canadian Challenge. You can see it here:
JUST BOOKS: THE DARK GARDEN Have a great evening!


John Mutford said...

Wanda: It's offbeat and political at the same time. Her humour definetly gives her book an edge over the others.

Beth: I think I might just go ahead and shoot for 12. I've seen the Bone books around. I'll have to try one.

Barbara: I just Ziplisted it. I'm glad to hear they kept it as a black and white cartoon. And to et more hours in a day you simply need to muliply by the square root of pi.

Kate: I hope they kept the story the same.

Sherrie: I haven't given up on thecolour ones just yet. I still want to read The Watchmen and try some manga.

Ali said...

I like the b&w artsy graphic novels best, too.

Not Iranian, but if you wanted to go with a general middle eastern theme I'd recommended Ariel Sabar's "My Father's Paradise." Ariel is American, his father is a Kurdish Jew who emigrated from Iraq to Israel to California, and the book is about his father's life and then the two of them traveling to Iraq together. A great book. More here.

Teddy Rose said...

Wonderful review John! I also just read my first graphic book. It really changed my mind about the genre.

I've had Persepolis on my TBR fror quit some time, but now I wouldn't hesitate.