Sunday, August 13, 2006

Geography and Books: Persepolis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is an autobiographical account of an Iranian girl and her parents’ lives from the end of the Shah's rule to the height of the Iran-Iraq War.

The book is a graphic novel and approximately 160 pages long. It was originally written in French but has been excellently translated into English.

Marjane was the great-granddaughter of the former emperor of Iran. However, she grew up in a mostly-secular Zoroastrian home with parents who were both avid Communists. The family opposes the Shah and participates in the revolution. Things take a dramatic turn when the Mullahs make Iran an Islamic Republic. The supporters of regime change become enemies of the state. Women are forced to wear veils, men must grow facial hair, and political dissent is violently crushed. More than once Marjane nearly received the fate of young Atefah Sahaaleh.

The most interesting factor in the book is the irony behind the Communists. Marjane grows up reading about Castro and Arafat, learns that Israel is the enemy of the people, and pretends to be Che. However, her dad drives a Cadillac, the family is upper class, they enjoy American music and bands, and they have maids. The maids are not allowed to eat at the table and the father breaks up a relationship because one of the maids is from a lower class. When the family thinks of fleeing the country they consider Austria, France, or the United States but no Communist states.

The book also serves as a reminder that most of the world has a much deeper sense of history than the United States. Marjane twice mentions how the Iraqis are the second Arab invaders in 1,400 years and she makes it seem like yesterday.

Persepolis is a quick read and can be finished in a day. The point-of-view it provides into recent Iranian history, culture, and totalitarianism in general is invaluable.

Category: Books

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