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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

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One of the more surprising recent developments in the comics medium is its potential both for conveying an emotional personal narrative, and for providing reliable historical information. Americans first saw this combination in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, an account of his Jewish father’s experiences in Nazi Germany. Before him, Japan’s Keiji Nakazawa transplanted his own experiences as a survivor of Hiroshima into the fictional protagonist of Barefoot Gen. These comics transcend expectations of the medium to tell emotional first-hand stories from history. We can now add Persepolis to the list.

Marjane Satrapi was a young girl during Iran’s cultural revolution, which changed the country from a Westernized monarchy to a fundamentalist theocracy. As the child of political revolutionaries, her story provides a unique look at both the populist revolution that initially overthrew the monarchy and the religious extremists who managed to take over afterward. She tells about family members who fought for the revolution, yet were later imprisoned and killed by the regime that came into power. The book provides valuable insight into Iran’s recent history, but it’s the true, human stories that make Satrapi’s work significant.

Like Maus and Barefoot Gen, the artwork of Persepolis is deceptively simple. At first glance, the black-and-white minimalist cartoons appear to be the work of an amateur (not that there’s anything wrong with amateurs). As one reads the story, however, it is clear that Satrapi is skilled in using juxtaposition and sometimes expressionistic drawings to generate the greatest emotional impact, all while being honest and respectful of the story.

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