Click here to read reviewer Douglas R. Cobb's take on The Complete Persepolis.
The acclaimed and inspiring Persepolis comes to readers now in a two-volume boxed set, delivering the first and second volume together in one package. At age ten, Marjane Satrapi’s life changes drastically. With the onset of the Islamic Revolution in her country of origin, Iran, the freedoms she has known quickly dissolve. Her Marxist parents, though initially glad about the revolution, reveal their fear as the fundamentalists take charge of Iran and enforce a stern set of rules.
Despite the dark mood of the country, Marjane still exhibits flights of fancy in how she hopes to change those around her and, hopefully, the world in general. From her chats with God to her arguments with her parents, Marjane tries to justify and understand her position in a world of increasing injustice. The face of oppression and inequality appear everywhere, and she struggles to understand the chaotic world around her. But as Iran enters into war with Iraq, her worried parents use all their resources to get her out of the country and keep her protected.
In Persepolis 2, Marjane finds herself in a French boarding school in Vienna, Austria, since she does not speak German. Through a series of homes, Marjane spends four years going to school, making friends and repeatedly feeling like the outsider. Having known war, seen dead bodies, and lived with relatives who were later political prisoners all by the age of thirteen, Marjane can’t quite find her niche. However, the world outside of Iran has also infused her with a different set of morals, knowledge, and beliefs. Upon returning to her family in Iran, Marjane once again falls prey to the outsider status, incapable of fully submitting to the life she’s expected to live.
Fantastically crafted, the series portrays both the universal struggles of growing up and the unique pressures put on outsiders such as Marjane. Her first volume evolves from the whimsical musings of a well-loved child to the darkened yet still hopeful emotions of a young woman who has witnessed both great wonders and horrible events. Her second volume reverberates with the uncertainty and second-guessing so familiar to teenagers across the world. It also reflects the harsh journey to identity and self-acceptance. Through romance and friendships, school and tenuous relationships with a family hundreds of miles away, Marjane needs the strength to keep it altogether.
These are no mere graphic novels but literature in an illustrated form. Were this story put straight to words, so much would be lost, especially since it is Marjane Satrapi herself who chooses this format. It works fantastically with the author’s intentions and revelations. The contrasting black-and-white panels can at time present moods and tones no simple text can create. The use of shadows, negative background, and full-page panels ingeniously reveals a great deal more than words. Marjane provides a gateway straight into her imagination.
Easily another addition to the canon of “must-read” graphic novels, this boxed set more than deserves a spot on the same bookshelf as Art Spielgman’s Maus, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, or Frank Miller’s Sin City. Readers get more than just a rich story: lessons about cultures they might not have known about otherwise. Graphic novels like these raise the standard and realize the potential of this format.