So far, we’ve reviewed comic books that have strong literary value. Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels, however, are literature that just happen to be graphic novels! And honestly, if you haven’t heard of them before this blog post, I feel bad for you since you must be living under a rock….in a cave… on Mars. Seriously, they are incredible for their moving content and brutal honesty. Satrapi’s books are consistently well reviewed, and this review will prove to be no different.
Comics Alliance voted the French-Iranian artist and writer Marjane Satrapi as deserving a life-time achievement award at the age of 45! Her autobiographical graphic novels (and almost all of her work is autobiographical) consistently win awards for their illustrations and for the literature. If you are someone who is just stepping into the world of graphic novels, Satrapi’s Persepolis is an ideal first step. It is gut wrenchingly powerful and very funny.
Satrapi has the distinction of being the first artist featured on 741.5 who is the graphic artist and author of her books (and she’s a woman, if you hadn’t picked up on that yet). Her art style is comprised solely of stark black and white images, meant to create a deep emotional impact while still being easily navigable and important to the story. I also feel, especially in her work related to the Iranian Revolution, that the black and white images reflect the with-us-or-against-us mentality of the post-revolution society.
Satrapi’s graphic novels, Persepolis (Vol. 1 & 2) describe her childhood and experiences growing up during and after the Iranian Revolution and her escape to Europe and adulthood. This thoughtful, sensitive, and astounding story brings the historic event into a new personal light. A light which shines brightly to uncover a young girl’s hopes and dreams, her very soul, in the midst of unrest and oppression.
The story starts with Satrapi as a child at the beginning of the political protests against the Shah of Iran in 1977. With little to no understanding of the political world, she supports the early days of the revolution based on what she hears from idealistic grown ups. Her childlike devotion to God and the revolution mirror the fanatic crowds protesting in the streets. The revolution is wrestled away from the liberal idealist and thrown in the opposite direction resulting in the imposition of Islamic law. The oppressive regime comes of age just as Satrapi does, both wanting to assert their will over the other and impose their own meaning of independence and justice.
And she’s a punk!
These fantastic graphic novels were turned into an award winning French animated film in 2008, which you can also borrow from our sight and sound department. Be warned, it is in French so you’ll be reading either route you take.
Another spectacular piece of non-fiction from Satrapi is a book called Embroideries.
Coyly calling to you to open the cover
Embroideries is phenomenal, I may like it even better than Persepolis. It’s about three generations of Iranian women drinking tea together, the conversation inevitably turning to discussions of love, men, their bodies, and sex. This amazing story looks at the sexuality of Iranian women across generations and is very insightful, pragmatic, and blunt. The story provides insight into arranged marriages, forced childhood marriages, and sex outside of marriage in a country where that could lead to imprisonment and public humiliation/punishment and even death.
Finally, there is Satrapi’s stunning and unusual book Chicken with Plums, which was recently adapted into an award winning film. It is the story of Marjane Satrapi’s Great Uncle, the famous Iranian musician Nasser Ali Khan. He played the tar, an important Iranian stringed instrument. When Khan’s tar is destroyed by his angry wife and he cannot find a suitable replacement, he gives up on life and wills himself to death. “Since no other tar could give him the pleasure of playing, Nasser Ali Khan decided to die,” we read early in the book, “He lay down in his bed…. [And] eight days later, November 22, 1958, he was buried beside his mother in Shemiran’s Zahirolodoleh Cemetary. All those who had known him were present on that day.” This story of Khan and his tar is a heartbreaking treatise on the soul, art, and the struggle to truly live.