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Saturday, August 04, 2007

At first, this graphic novel left me feeling unsatisfied, overwhelmed, and disoriented. So many disturbing and painful things happen to this Iranian child and her family, so many different factions inflict suffering, and the suffering ranges so much in degree that the novel seems to proceed as a barrage of highly charged and emotional experiences. But having reread some portions and reflected a little, I see now that the succession of images works as a child’s memoir. Much of a child’s life is spent navigating unfamiliar territory even in the best of circumstances. Add civil unrest, war, political repression, violence, and fear, and a childhood might very well progress as a series of bewildering and contradictory events.

Marjane Satrapi relates an autobiographical account of her younger years growing up in Iran during the repressive regime of the Shah (also called the ‘King’) prior to 1979, and then during the violent, uncertain era of the Islamic cultural revolution, which also turned out to be repressive. Marji’s life intersects constantly with people who have been imprisoned and tortured by the Shah’s regime or the Islamists. Many are killed. The war with Iraq follows, and Tehran is exposed to bomb attacks and food shortages. Many more people die in the raids and in offensive efforts against Baghdad. Meanwhile, Marji is trying to go to school, her family contemplates emigrating, and her classmates rebel against wearing the veil and regurgitating Islamist propaganda.

This is only second graphic novel I’ve read, and I am still very ambivalent about the format. It is obvious that the author feels deeply about her experiences, and through her spartan black-and-white drawings, compellingly draws the reader into her story. The pictoral setting, however, with scant opportunity for nuance and detailed explanation, often leads to a simplistic account which serves her purpose very imperfectly. Such important topics as her religious sensibilities, (apparent) loss of faith, first crush, indignation at injustice based on social class, rebellion against school authorities, and the perceived hypocrisy of her parents are very difficult to discuss in a meaningful way through a graphic novel. I often felt like the story was dumbed down and incomplete. Nevertheless, the format makes the story very accessible and easy to read, and perhaps more readers will benefit from its telling because of it.

Author:Marjane Satrapi
Date published:2003
Genre:Graphic novel
Number of pages:153
Notes:Recommended by L.


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