Persepolis narrates the story of the political and cultural evolution of Iran through the eyes of a young girl. The book is filled with moments of joy and grief and one can feel it all. The story is told in simple yet moving illustrations. Persepolis is brave, humorous and honest. It offers a rare insight into life in a theocracy.
The book begins with Marjane, the author, adjusting to the new Islamic Republic which was a product of the revolution. The supporters of the revolution no longer associated themselves with it. Their vision of a democratic Iran was hijacked by a few extremely powerful clergymen. The book successfully captures the confusion faced by a young child who is told to support the new Islamic regime by her school but sees her parents protesting against it. She sees her life go upside down as most of the things she enjoyed had been banned.
Suddenly, there were only single-sex institutes and bilingual schools were closed down. With time, the situation got worse. As Iran went to war – all demonstrations were banned, dissenters were either tortured or killed and there were regular bombardments by drones. Marjane was growing to be more fearless and curious every day. Her personality often landed her in trouble with the school authorities and Guardians of the Revolution. Therefore, her parents decided to send her to Austria at the age of fourteen.
She became overwhelmed with the newly granted independence. However, she soon found that living alone wasn’t her cup of tea and she missed her family, culture and country. She felt lost and guilty and decided to return to Iran. Coming back to her homeland wasn’t as easy as she thought. There were very few opportunities for women and the whole country was tarnished due to the aftermath of the war. Marjane highlighted the oppressive and bizarre nature of the autocratic regime of Iran. Through her impactful illustrations, Marjane successfully explained complex contemporary topics like the veil and feminism, neo-colonialism, social movements, xenophobia and the dangers of fundamentalism.
One quote sums up the reason why theocracies impose such strict control on all aspects of their subjects’ lives very neatly:
“The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself, ‘Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my make-up be seen? Are they going to whip me?’, no longer asks herself, ‘Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, is it livable? What’s going on in political prisons? It’s only natural! When we’re afraid we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyses us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression. Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion.”
She has made a consistent effort to challenge the rigid distinction of Personal vs. Political by explaining how the desperate desire of the state to make strict laws to control women rests on the patriarchal conception of viewing women as men’s possessions. At the end of the book, Marjane decides to go to France and she knew it was for a long time this time. She met her grandmother for the last time as freedom has a huge price for some.
Persepolis made me learn so much about the cultural history of Iran and made me believe in the universal nature of human relationships. Marjane wrote the text in an almost childish manner, to reflect the innocence of a child who is forced to grow up because of violence and oppression. It is a beautifully presented coming-of-age book which gives importance to the lives of other characters too.
There was a great deal of symbolism too in the book. The book has black and white graphics because Marjane sees the world in black and white. From the beginning till the end, Marjane tried to make a clear distinction between good or evil and right or wrong. The author has used simple words to describe complicated topics. She has consciously used the cinch style of illustrations as her main purpose is to make the readers realise that different truths exist even when we are not able to see it.
Moreover, she hasn’t hesitated from expressing her opinions and simultaneously left room for the readers to arrive at their own conclusions. Throughout the novel, Marjane, along with other Iranian women, is fighting a constant battle against the patriarchy. This is showcased in small ways such as her rebellious attitude towards her school authorities as a child, not wearing the veil and attending parties or in her socially unacceptable decisions like leaving her husband after realising she wasn’t happy and felt trapped. The author rightfully captured her shifting ideals, impulsive and reckless decisions and dauntless acts of resistance.
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Hollywood Reporter