BOOKS: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.
Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.
About The Author
Marjane Satrapi (Persian: مرجان ساتراپی) is an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist, illustrator, animated film director, and children's book author. Apart from her native tongue Persian, she speaks English, Swedish, German, French and Italian.
Satrapi grew up in Tehran in a family which was involved with communist and socialist movements in Iran prior to the Iranian Revolution. She attended the Lycée Français there and witnessed, as a child, the growing suppression of civil liberties and the everyday-life consequences of Iranian politics, including the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ruhollah Khomeini, and the first years of the Iran-Iraq War. She experienced an Iraqi air raid and Scud missile attacks on Tehran. According to Persepolis, one Scud hit the house next to hers, killing her friend and entire family.
Satrapi's family are of distant Iranian Azeri ancestry and are descendants of Nasser al-Din Shah, Shah of Persia from 1848 until 1896. Satrapi said that "But you have to know the kings of the Qajar dynasty, they had hundreds of wives. They made thousands of kids. If you multiply these kids by generation you have, I don't know, 10-15,000 princes [and princesses]. There's nothing extremely special about that." She added that due to this detail, most Iranian families would be, in the words of Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, "blue blooded."
In 1983, at the age of 14 Satrapi was sent to Vienna, Austria by her parents in order to flee the Iranian regime. There she attended the Lycée Français de Vienne. According to her autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis, she stayed in Vienna through her high school years, staying in friends' homes, but spent three months living on the streets. After an almost deadly bout of pneumonia, she returned to Iran. She studied Visual Communication, eventually obtaining a Master's Degree from Islamic Azad University in Tehran.
During this time, Satrapi went to numerous illegal parties hosted by her friends, where she met a man named Reza, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. She married him at the age of 21, but divorced roughly three years later. Satrapi then moved to Strasbourg, France.