Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, is one of those graphic novels that I’ve been told again and again transcends the medium. I’ve always had a soft spot for comics and I’ve always believed that graphic novels can be just as powerful as regular novels – the Bone series is still one of my favorite series of all time. However, erudite and learned individuals tell me that isn’t acceptable in the real world… and because they have to sublimate those feelings for comics, they turn to books like this.
First off, Satrapi’s book is very good. The copy I read (published by Vintage Books in England) is the complete novel – that is, both parts (“The Story of a Childhood” and “The Story of a Return”). I think that, honestly, splitting the novel into two books actually does it a bit of a disservice. I don’t just mean with the double dipping (my copy cost the equivalent of $11. Volume 1 as a standalone paperback in the US? $12. That’s just… ridiculous. Anyway, off THAT high horse and back to the topic at hand: the novel.)
It is, as so many other books I’ve found myself reading this year, a coming-of-age narrative. It’s a true story, about Satrapi’s childhood in Iran in the late 70s and early 80s – a time period which needs no introduction. As Satrapi manages to point out in narration, the effects of the Revolution are still very VERY clearly felt today. In the context of a coming-of-age narrative, the story works very well. The art is beautifully simple – stark blacks and whites, simple lines, nothing complex or “ooh-ahh” but instead something just very comfortable. It is easy to take in the frames and the words at the same time, as opposed to having to focus on one or the other.
Satrapi has a gift for storytelling, as well. She has a great wit and finds ways to make even the starkest and saddest of moments light. She doesn’t undercut the sentiment or anything – she just makes them bearable. What she doesn’t do well, however, is brought to light at the end of the novel. Literally, the last fifteen pages (give or take, probably more like the last ten but I’m cushioning) felt SO forced and stilted that I almost thought someone else had written them. She presents a sequence of scenes between her and her parents (a few other people pop in) where they talk about the regime circa 1995 or so and how bad it is. This is really no different than earlier in the novel – she’d presented many scenes where any number of characters spoke eloquently about the horrors and atrocities of the Iranian religious regime… but this sequence just felt forced. It felt very “after school special” as the saying goes. It really undercut the power of the novel and the jarring ending – Satrapi at the airport again, this time for a happier leaving, waving to her parents and grandmother… but the last caption ends with the fact that her grandmother died within about a year. REALLY quite a strange ending) – just felt unpolished, like it’d been rushed to that conclusion and then she realized “shit, I don’t have anywhere else to go… so… we’ll just push this all into the last few pages and shove it out the door.”
To Sum Up: Despite the rough ending, I really enjoyed this book. It is one of those graphic novels that smarty-pants people can read and not feel as though they’re lowering themselves to comics. I personally think those people need a reality check but hey – that’s just me.