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the Complete Review
the complete review - comic book


Marjane Satrapi

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To purchase The Complete Persepolis

Title: Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Genre: Comic book
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in The Complete Persepolis - US
in The Complete Persepolis - UK
in The Complete Persepolis - Canada
in Persepolis - France
in Persepolis - Deutschland
  • Original title: Persépolis I and II
  • Persepolis was made into a movie in 2007, directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi , and with the voices of Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni

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Our Assessment:

B : decent glimpse of revolutionary Iran

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 10/12/2001 Frédéric Maire
FAZ . 11/3/2004 Andreas Platthaus
The LA Times A 22/6/2003 Bernadette Murphy
The NY Rev. of Books A 24/3/2005 Patricia Storace
The NY Times Book Rev. A 11/5/2003 Fernanda Eberstadt
Salon . 5/5/2003 Michelle Goldberg
The Times . 21/5/2003 Malu Halasa
USA Today . 6/8/2003 Christopher Theokas
The Village Voice B+ 2/5/2003 Joy Press
Die Zeit . 29/4/2004 Matthias Nass

  From the Reviews:
  • "(U)ne passionnante autobiographie en dessins. (...) Associant des textes d’une sobriété enfantine (qui n’empêche pas quelques belles envolées poétiques) et un dessin en à-plats noir et blanc qui rappelle les enluminures des ouvrages moyenâgeux, Marjane Satrapi réussit à mettre en scène une toute autre image que l’Occidental peut se faire de l’Iran contemporain." - Frédéric Maire, L'Express

  • "Persepolis ist ein durch und durch privater Comic, der konsequent den Blickwinkel eines jungen Mädchens einnimmt und seiner Protagonistin um keinen Erkenntnisschritt voraus ist. So setzt sich die Geschichte von der Einbindung der Familie in den politischen Widerstand gegen zwei Regime wie ein Puzzle zusammen, und noch die grausamsten Episoden von Folter und Hinrichtungen oder vom Krieg gegen den Irak werden durch die kindliche Perspektive gemildert -- aber nie verharmlost." - Andreas Platthaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(O)ne of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day. (...) This guileless tone, balanced by the book's humor and its stark illustrations, reveals in startling ways the realities of growing up amid war, revolution and a fundamentalist regime." - Bernadette Murphy, The Los Angeles Times

  • "That Persepolis 1, a book in which it is almost impossible to find an image distinguished enough to consider an independent piece of visual art, and equally difficult to find a sentence which in itself surpasses the serviceable, emerges as a work so fresh, absorbing, and memorable is an extraordinary achievement." - Patricia Storace, The New York Review of Books

  • "Persepolis (...) dances with drama and insouciant wit." - Fernanda Eberstadt, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Essentially Persepolis charts the transition of a secular society into an Islamic state, a situation still causing repercussions in the Near and Middle East today." - Malu Halasa, The Times

  • "The fact that she is able to portray such a vast range of emotions with a few simple strokes of a pen is impressive. That she does this consistently for 153 pages is a mighty achievement. The dialogue seems somewhat stilted" - Christopher Theokas, USA Today

  • "This is what Satrapi does best -- she's a scavenger of daily incident, spotting the tiny and not-so-tiny cracks in society during and after of the revolution. (...) Satrapi's super-naive style is powerful; it persuasively communicates confusion and horror through the eyes of a precocious preteen. But Persepolis conveys neither the emotional depth of Maus nor the virtuosity of Joe Sacco's journalistic comics." - Joy Press, The Village Voice

  • "(S)ie hat ihren ganz eigenen Stil gefunden: fast kindlich-naiv anmutende Bilder in hartem Schwarzweißkontrast, die Marjis Geschichte mit all ihren grauenhaften und absurden Episoden voller Wärme erzählen." - Matthias Nass, Die Zeit
  • "Marjane Satrapi (...) bleibt immer in der Logik des kleinen Mädchens, dazu passen auch ihre Zeichnungen: klare Schwarzweisszeichnungen, die naiv wirken und bisweilen um symbolische angereichert sind und auch ohne viel Worte viel Zeitgefühl vermitteln." - Christian Gasser, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (7/3/2002)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Persepolis isn't a graphic novel -- it's an autobiographical comic strip (bande dessinée), describing author Marjane Satrapi's youth in revolutionary and then war-torn Iran.
       Satrapi's drawing style is very simple, the figures very basic, the scenes rarely involving much detail. Many of the drawings resemble woodcuts, and Satrapi very effectively uses black and white: clothes, backgrounds, and various details are sometimes black, sometimes white, making for effective, stark contrasts.
       The story is told episodically, chapters focussing loosely on specific events -- "The Veil", "The Key" (plastic keys given to young soldiers that would get them into heaven if they died in battle), "Kim Wilde" (Satrapi was a fan), etc. Together, it adds up to a decent (if very small) picture of Iran between 1979 and 1984.
       Satrapi's story focusses on how she remembers the Iranian revolution and then the first years after. Her family was a left-leaning one (despite the fact that her great-grandfather was the last (real) emperor of Iran) and several relatives were killed for their political affiliations and ambitions. She also clearly lived a relatively privileged life.
       Satrapi was only around ten at the time of the revolution. She begins her story afterward, with the imposition of mandatory veil-wearing for women (and girls), and the separation of the sexes in school. Soon enough, however, she looks back and reveals a bit more about herself, as well as the background of the Iranian revolution.
       The Iranian revolution was not a simple triumph of (fanatical) Islam over the then-Shah. The Shah had lost the support of large segments of the population, including those on the left. There were many protest (in which Satrapi's parents also participated).
       Much is told from a child's often partially uncomprehending point of view -- a girl to whom concepts such as class differences and various ideologies often aren't clear. Reactions -- such as to the veil -- are often largely visceral -- or childlike; it's an effective way of showing much of what was and went wrong in those years. And even the child has some sense of some of the disturbing ease with which change comes, as when she complains when her teacher tells the students to tear the pictures of the Shah out of their textbooks after his fall -- the same teacher "who told us that the Shah was chosen by God". (In one of the clever bits in this book this comment by the young girl is then twisted around and used against her.)
       The crackdown by the Islamic fanatics who came to assume power is something that apparently came fairly surprisingly to Satrapi's parents' circle. The idea that: "the religious leaders are very stupid, they won't last" seems a typical (and completely misguided) sentiment. Soon enough, demonstrating against the fundamentalists came to be too difficult and everyone found themselves under their repressive yoke. Some more than others, however: the child's family even went abroad in September 1980 -- not fleeing the country, as many were, but on a European vacation ("they realized soon such things would no longer be possible") When they returned they found Iran was at war with Iraq. (Typically, too, the child -- ever the patriot, despite the ridiculous regime now running the show -- immediately thinks: "I wanted to fight.")
       The book is perhaps at its best in describing the situation in this time of war. Tehran was bombed repeatedly, as were other parts of Iran, and Satrapi gives a decent picture of what that was like, and the suffering endured. The pressures on youths -- boys, especially -- and their families is well conveyed.
       Meanwhile, also, life went on much like normal -- as far as it could be normal. The family still had parties, still had alcohol. Satrapi's parents went on a trip to Turkey and brought her back posters of Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden (talk about anti-revolutionary statements for a young girl to want to make in her bedroom !).
       Satrapi's adolescent rebellion also manifested itself in school -- dangerously so. Eventually it is decided that it would be better for her to go abroad, so her parents send her to Vienna. This is where the English-language edition of Persepolis ends; Satrapi has meanwhile published another volume in French, continuing the story (we now have this, part three of the tale, under review too).

       Notably absent in the text (and the pictures) are any Ayatollahs, even Khomeini -- a telling refusal to acknowledge these religious leaders (so-called) who have driven the country so far backwards over the past two decades of completely misguided rule.
       Significant historical events -- the US embassy hostage crisis, the Rex Cinema fire, the political changes in the first years after the fall of the Shah -- are generally dealt with quickly. Satrapi focusses much more on the smaller everyday occurrences that stand out in the life of a girl such as her. It does offer a good picture of Iranian life at that time -- though many questions remain. Indeed, the account is very sketchy, and most readers surely would be very interested in more details about her family and background, especially since their lifestyle seems remarkably comfortable even in very difficult times.
       The girl she was remains an interesting, relatively believable character. From her early ambitions (to be a prophet) to her favourite book (it "was a comic book entitled Dialectical Materialism") to her adolescent rebellion and childish confusions, the young Marji is well conveyed.

       The illustrations do enrich much of the text -- yet because it is a comic book there is very little text. Ultimately, the stories are reduced to a few scenes, and a few words -- barely outlined, very sketchy. Some are very effective as such, as most of the horrors don't need to be dealt with in detail to be understood for the horrors they were. And yet it ultimately feels like it is far too little, and too light.

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  • Pantheon publicity page
  • Excerpts at The Iranian (allow time for graphics to load)
Reviews: Persepolis - the film: Marjane Satrapi: Other books by Marjane Satrapi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Iranian comic-book author Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969. She now lives in France.

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