Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her childhood in post-revolutionary Iran through illustrations and writing in Persepolis. Her "graphic memoir" breaks down the complexities of the Islamic Revolution in a way that's relatable and easy to understand. She also weaves history into the story--both for Persian culture and how her own family's past fits into the larger context.
Her parents actively protested the Shah's government, but they also weren't happy with the Islamic regime that gained power. As a child, Satrapi had to try to make sense of everything she heard about, read about or witnessed.
The revolution brought many changes to life in Iran. Satrapi describes these cultural shifts through her eyes as a privileged child and then as a young teen growing up in Tehran.
3 things that changed thanks to the revolution
1. Gender norms
Persepolis begins with a chapter entitled "The Veil." Starting in 1980, girls had to wear the veil at school. Satrapi explains that many girls didn't take the veil seriously because, at ten years old, they didn't understand why they suddenly had to wear it.
Eventually, all women were expected to wear the veil outside of their homes. Those who didn't were harassed and threatened by men on the street--like Satrapi's mother on one occasion depicted in the memoir.
Satrapi explained that you could tell the difference between a "modern" woman and an Islamist sympathizer by the way women wore their veils.
While men were not policed for their appearance the way women were, there were noticeable differences between how "progressive" men dressed and groomed themselves compared to men who bought into the Islamic regime.
After the Islamic Revolution, the changes in government started to impact the school systems. The curriculum was modified to reflect the ideology of the new regime. Even in Satrapi's French school, teachers who had previously praised the Shah now praised the new government.
Satrapi stood up to her teachers and spoke truth to power. Her terrified mother feared Satrapi would end up getting arrested for contradicting the regime.
Lower-class school children suffered a harsher consequence of the revolution. The teachers gave boys golden plastic "keys to Paradise" with the promise that if they died for the Islamic regime, they'd be martyrs rewarded with virgins in heaven.
Before the revolution, Iran embraced many aspects of Western culture. The Islamic regime banned things like alcohol and Western music.
Still, people hosted parties with booze, card games, and dancing behind closed doors and closed curtains. Doing so was a risk, but sometimes the Guardians of the Revolution could be bribed to ignore such transgressions. Satrapi saw this first-hand.
The end of a childhood
Although the revolution affected her, in many ways Satrapi was a regular teenaged girl--listening to 80s punk music, wearing Nikes and ripped jeans and gossiping with her friends. Through all of the upheaval of the political revolution and the subsequent war with Iraq, she grew into an outspoken, independent young lady.
Satrapi tells her story with an ironic humor that will capture your attention from the first panel and make you want to know what happens next. Persepolis captures her real-life coming-of-age story against the backdrop of political insurrection and the tragedies of war.
There's a sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Or you can buy both volumes of the story in The Complete Persepolis. The graphic novel was also adapted into a cartoon film.