Title: The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Genre: Graphic Novel/Memoir
When Marjane “Marji” Satrapi was five years old, her home country of Iran was in the middle of a revolution in which the country’s government was vehemently opposed and eventually overthrown. In its place, a Muslim theocracy was established and arguably left the country worse off than before. Under this new theocracy, many new rules were implemented. Most notably, all female citizens were required to wear headscarves. On one occasion, Satrapi’s mother refused to do so and two guardians of the revolution haunted her on the street and threatened her with violence if she did not comply with their rules.
A few years later, Marji meets her uncle, Anoosh, who along with her grandmother has the most influence upon Marji’s future life. Anoosh was a political prisoner under the old regime, but was recaptured and executed by the new Iranian government. This experience is particularly formative in her life, as it cultivates her rebellious spirit.
Not long after her uncle’s execution, Iran goes to war against Iraq, leading the government to produce pro-war propaganda and encourage the young men to become martyrs for the cause. During this time, Marji develops into a rebellious teenager and shows her opposition to the government by buying American music tapes and skipping her religion classes at school.
Satrapi’s vehement opposition to the Islamic regime makes waves in her school and her community, leading her parents to make the ultimate decision to send her to Austria to finish her education. The culture shock stuns Marji, and she finds herself stuck in the dichotomy of the trivial concerns of her European friends in conjunction with her war-torn country back home.
Following several misadventures in Europe, including a hospitalization and near-death experience, Satrapi elects to return home. The war has ended, but Iran’s problems are far from over. The streets of Tehran are named after the war’s martyrs, making Marji feel like she is walking through a cemetery. To make matters worse, the Islamic theocracy is more overbearing than ever before, and Marji gets sanctioned for seemingly harmless practices such as holding her boyfriend’s hand in public and attending a party in which alcohol is served.
Marji attends university in Iran, and is still unafraid to stand up to the administration, saying that she finds it difficult to draw the female figure because the government mandates that all models be covered with headscarves and long skirts. She quips, “We looked from every direction and every angle but not a single part of her body was visible. We nevertheless learned to draw drapes.” Eventually, Marji’s parents come to the same conclusion that they did when she was 14: Iran is no place for a modern woman like Marji, and they urge her to go back to Europe so she can be free from the oppression.
The Complete Persepolis is actually a two-part memoir, in which the former half focuses on Marji’s childhood up until her move to Austria and the latter half focuses on the events of her adolescence and early adulthood.
I found this story to be moving, and something more was added to the narrative with Satrapi’s stark black-and-white illustrations. It is one thing to read a firsthand account of someone’s life experiences, but to actually see it illustrated makes it more real and apparent to the audience. The dark realities of living in an oppressive theocracy are addressed honestly, yet she nevertheless adds countless quips and sarcastic comments. Though she may consider leaving Tehran’s upheaval twice as cowardly, I can only hope to one day be as brave of a woman as Marji Satrapi.