Friday, 9 July 2010
Persepolis is not a novel in the traditional sense of the word. It is a biographical 'graphic novel' following the true events of the tumultuous life of a young Iranian girl as she struggles to survive in a country where oppression is part of daily life.
Ironically the style of the book is very true to the personality of the artist; rebellious and non-conforming. The illustrations are basic but very effective and I feel they benefited the story immensely and made it easier to visualise what she was saying (as I suppose any good graphic novel should)
Persepolis is actually two books in one, the first being 'The Story of a Childhood' which follows the author's life from a very young age growing up in an Iran controlled by a ruthless self-imposed Shah. Halfway through this story a revolution takes place replacing the Shah with an extremist regime who arrest Iranian citizens at the drop of a hat for such heinous crimes as listening to western music, throwing parties, wearing fashionable clothes or talking to someone of the opposite gender who you aren't married to. Of course anyone who spoke out against the regime was arrested, tortured and often murdered. As if this wasn't bad enough the author lives with her mother and father both of whom are very outspoken against the regime and have Communist sympathies. By the end of the story the author is sent to Europe by her family to start a new life and escape the oppression of the Islamic government.
The book is powerful, there is no denying that, it was hard to put down and you care about what happens to the people in it. The book is also funny and tragic at points. I couldn't help get the feeling that a lot of what happened was glazed over, although I definitely got the strong impression these people suffered immensely I did feel the author sugar-coated some of it. Whether this was because it was too painful to recall or some other reason I do not know.
This book has left a lasting impression with me and it was really worth a read, I hope people don't let the unusual format put them off. It certainly makes you appreciate what you have!
The second book is 'The Story of a Return' and it is a sequel to the first book. It covers the period of the author's life when she leaves Iran to start a new life in Europe. As you would imagine she finds it very hard to adjust, one cannot go from living in a country like Iran and just fit right in with a secular Western society. The author tries to figure out who she is and in her confusion and frustration she goes off the rails, she begins to immerse herself in a darker side to western culture; casual sex and drugs. At this stage the character becomes less likeable and her story less interesting, whether this is because her transition into western life marks the loss of her innocence or the identity I grew to love in the first book I'm not sure but I found the second book less interesting and meaningful. There is an incident where she behaves with unbelievable cruelty to a stranger and I was left wondering if this was in her nature to begin with or if it is a symptom of the place she lives. Who knows? Eventually, after four years living abroad, our heroine (now 19 years old) returns to Iran which is much the same as she remembers it. Sadly instead of helping her find her true identity it only confuses her further.
There were thought provoking points during the story such as the shocking racism she encounters whilst living in Austria and the fickle relationships she forms. There is also a good amount of humour as in the first book but I didn't find it as enjoyable as the first instalment.
Overall 'The Story of a Childhood' gets 4/5 'The Story of a Return' gets 3/5