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Graphic Novel Review: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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The Complete Persepolis presents Satrapi’s acclaimed graphic-novel memoirs. This work, originally published in France in four installments, tracks her life through a series of short vignettes. The illustrations are in black ink and, though simple drawings, they do a very good job of conveying the story.

When the book opens Satrapi is age 10 and the Iran’s Islamic Revolution has recently taken place. The book moves back and forth through time providing history about Iran and her family. Her great-grandfather was the Emperor of Iran, but was overthrown by Reza Shah with the help of the British. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, succeeded him as the Shah and was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Her parents are progressive and appear to be a middle to upper-middle class family. They protest in the streets against both the Shah and the new regime even though people were jailed, like Marjane’s maternal grandfather, and killed.

Unaware of the dangers, Marjane wants to take part, but her parents deny her. Eventually she attends a rally with an older friend and continues until she witnesses violence from religious extremists. Dangers also come from outside the country as Iran and Iraq wage war for most of the 1980s. The loss or disappearance of loved ones by friends and neighbors becomes a regular occurrence.

As she grows up Satrapi continues to rebel, wearing Nikes and listening to music like pop star Kim Wilde and heavy metal band Iron Maiden. At 14, her parents fear for her safety and send her to Austria. She does her best to fit in, and even though she makes friends is always a bit of an outsider. She remains headstrong and constantly battles authority.

After completing high school, she returns to Iran where she attends university and gets married. Unhappy with the repressive nature of Iranian society and her unfulfilling marriage, she leaves Iran for good to attend art school in France where the book ends.

In the narration Satrapi says, “I became conscious of the contrast between the official representation of my country and the real life, the one that went on behind the walls.” She provides great insight into members of the Iranian population whose plight has gotten little coverage, especially in the United States. It’s refreshing and comforting to discover that, with the filters of both governments removed, many Iranian citizens are recognizable and appear essentially no different than any other people. They have the same wants and desires that freedom offers and many have paid a high price for what little they have.

The Complete Persepolis has been turned into an award-winning animated French film, Persepolis, which won the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize. The trailer below will provide an example of the book’s artwork:

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS