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TMW Featured Article

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: A Perspective on Iran’s History and Culture

Marjane Satrapi, image courtesy of Amazon

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, during which fasting, prayer, and charity are emphasized. Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born graphic novelist and illustrator whose works often touch on themes of cultural identity, political oppression, and social injustice. One of her most famous works is the graphic novel “Persepolis,” which depicts her childhood and young adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution.

“Persepolis” is a poignant and powerful memoir that offers readers an intimate glimpse into a young girl growing up in a country torn apart by political upheaval and religious extremism. Satrapi’s story is both personal and political, and it sheds light on the complexities of living in a society that is undergoing rapid change.

During Ramadan, many Muslims engage in extra acts of charity, such as donating to the less fortunate and volunteering in their communities. Reading “Persepolis” is a great way to celebrate this holy month by understanding the experiences of people living in different parts of the world and developing greater empathy and compassion for others.

What is it about?

The book tells the story of a young girl named Marji and her family navigating the new restrictions imposed by the fundamentalist government in Iran after the revolution. Marji’s family is politically active, and she is exposed to both Iranian and Western philosophy and culture. However, when the new government rounds up political enemies, Marji’s beloved uncle is executed on false charges, and Marji begins to speak out against government propaganda.

A Muslim Author

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born author, illustrator, and filmmaker. She was born in Rasht, Iran, on November 22, 1969, and grew up in Tehran. She is best known for her graphic novel “Persepolis,” a memoir of her childhood and coming-of-age. Satrapi began drawing at a young age and attended art school in Iran before moving to France in 1994, where she continued her studies and eventually settled.

In addition to “Persepolis,” Satrapi has written and illustrated several other graphic novels, including “Embroideries,” “Chicken with Plums,” and “The Sigh.” She has also directed several films.

An Intimate Understanding of the Iranian Revolution and Cultural Identity

Marjane Satrapi shares her personal perspective on the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath, shedding light on the changes that affected everyday life in Iran. Satrapi’s struggles to reconcile her Iranian heritage with her experiences in Europe offer a poignant reflection on the complexities of cultural identity and the challenges faced by those caught between different cultures. Divided into two parts, the book provides a window into Satrapi’s journey:

In the first part, Satrapi discusses her childhood in Iran

She talked about the challenges she faced during the Islamic Revolution, particularly living under a new government that imposed strict restrictions on everyday life. However, her family’s political activism and the persecution and execution of her beloved uncle by the new government inspire Satrapi to speak out against government propaganda.

The fall of the Shah

The Islamic Revolution began in 1979, and one of its primary goals was to overthrow the Shah, who had ruled Iran for over 25 years. Satrapi’s family was politically active and supported the revolution.

The rise of Ayatollah Khomeini

The Islamic Revolution was led by Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious leader who became the new Supreme Leader of Iran after the Shah was deposed. Khomeini’s rule marked a significant shift in Iran’s political and social landscape, and his religious conservatism profoundly impacted the country’s culture and daily life.

Restrictions on women

One key change the Islamic Revolution brought about was the imposition of strict Islamic laws and regulations, particularly concerning women. Satrapi struggled with the mandatory veiling of women and the limited opportunities for education and employment for women under the new regime.

Political activism

Satrapi’s family was politically active and was exposed to a wide range of ideas and perspectives from a young age. Her parents were supporters of the revolution, but they also had reservations about the new regime and its policies.

The second part of the book follows Satrapi’s teenage years

Due to periodic bombings in the city and Iran’s war with Iraq, Margie’s parents send her to live in Austria, where she experiences culture shock and struggles to assimilate. She spends three months living on the street, falls into depression, and attempts to take her own life. After her attempts fail, she decides to turn her life around and rebels against the fundamentalist restrictions in Iran. In the end, she moves to France.

Culture shock

Satrapi struggled to adjust to life in Vienna, where she encountered new customs, language, and social norms. She felt isolated and struggled to make friends, and she also faced discrimination and prejudice due to her Iranian background.

Identity and belonging

As a teenager, Satrapi was already grappling with issues of identity and belonging, and her experience in Vienna only amplified these feelings. She struggled to reconcile her Iranian heritage with her European surroundings and felt torn between two cultures and identities.

Depression and substance abuse

Satrapi’s struggles with identity and belonging and the challenges of adapting to a new culture led to depression and substance abuse. She struggled with loneliness, isolation, and confusion and turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Personal growth

Despite her challenges, Satrapi ultimately emerged from her experiences in Vienna with a newfound sense of independence and self-discovery. She learned to embrace her cultural heritage while embracing new ideas and perspectives and better understanding herself and the world around her.

“No country should be judged based on its most extreme citizens”

It is unfair to generalize and make assumptions about an entire country and its people based on the actions or beliefs of a small group of individuals who represent an extreme viewpoint or ideology. This is a reminder that every country and its people are diverse and complex. It is essential to seek out various perspectives and experiences to understand a culture or society fully.

It was adapted into an award-winning animated film

“Persepolis” was adapted into an animated film in 2007, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. The film was a critical and commercial success, winning numerous awards, including the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.

The film closely follows the book’s narrative, using the same black-and-white animation style and featuring the voice talents of several well-known actors. The film was praised for its storytelling, use of humor and emotion, and ability to capture the complexities of Iranian culture and politics.

One of the most significant aspects of the film was its ability to bring Satrapi’s story to a broader audience. Through animation, the film appealed to both adult and younger audiences and got the story to life in a visually stunning and emotionally powerful way. Additionally, the film helped to raise awareness of the issues faced by Iranian people during and after the Islamic Revolution and fostered a greater empathy for their experiences.

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