I’ve decided to discuss both of Satrapi’s memoirs in one post, not because I want to reduce their individual importance, but because they complement and bookend one another so effectively. It doesn’t make sense to me to talk about one without the other, because, to me, Persepolis and Persepolis 2 feel like a novel divided by a distinct before and after. Together they operate the way many of my favorite novels do: beginning with rising, sure-footed fire and ending with the uncertainty, consequences.
Persepolis focuses on Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, and how it was inevitably shaped by the escalating conflict between Iran and Iraq. Full disclosure: contextually, I cannot relate with the degree of social and political tension Satrapi’s experienced. However, I believe a lot of her feelings growing up can be relatable to anyone—any woman—anywhere. Young Marji was ready to grow up and take part. She was intense. She tested boundaries with budding rebelliousness that challenged societal norms as well as her radical parents. As the war intensifies, Marji is witness to the increasingly militant culture, and she wants nothing more than to push against it and be involved in the politics. She educates herself, only fueling her passion. Marji is a child who has a reason to want to grow up. She wants to be counted.
The memoir ends on a dramatic and heart-wrenching crescendo: the faces of her parents as they send her off to live with friends in Vienna. It’s difficult to do the moment justice in words, as it’s best served by Satrapi’s artistic style, so I’ll just leave at this: it’s powerful. In that moment, Marji is the child. Not because she’s suddenly incapable or immature, but because she is vulnerable for the first time in stepping outside of the safety of her parents’ home, and even her home country.
Persepolis 2 is comprised of consequences. Consequences of leaving Iran. Consequences of returning. Marji has, in many ways, finally caught up to her grown-up feelings, but has seen the reality of them. She is not punished for her fire, but is, instead, wholly her own. Instead of wanting to grow up, she, for the first time, does so because she has to. She is forced to leave the family who she was living with in Vienna. She endured it. She experienced crippling depression when, years later, she returns home to Iran. She endured that, too. Not all wins are victories; many are merely survival.
P2 is a complex piece. It focuses on Marji’s struggle to find her identity, and how setbacks can stunt personal growth. It is the unsteady launch of (young) adulthood, and how unromantic and confusing it is.
It’s hard to give these books their fair dues. I’m new to graphic novels and putting to words what I absorb via images is embarrassingly difficult. However, I will say that the Persepolis memoirs opened my mind not only to a style of storytelling that was new to me, but also insight into relatively recent historical events. I’ve lived a generally privileged life, free of wars in my backyard, and just sort of free in general. When reading, I am most endeared to books that expand my mind in some way. Not just my general knowledge base. I’m endlessly interested in perspectives and life stories that differ vastly from my own. It alerts me to my biases and weaknesses and encourages me take as much from it as possible. Persepolis is not only a useful text in learning the impact of the war between Iran and Iraq on the Iranian people, but also an insight into a brilliant mind, and an opportunity to relate to something outside of yourself. I saw little pieces of myself in Marji’s fire and subsequent insecurities—from, of course, a very different and in many ways privileged perspective. Experiences are unique; emotions are shared.