Satrapi's book showed me
a more accurate and more human picture of Iran and of Iranians
By Cathryn Clarke
September 12, 2003
Marjane Satrapi's recently published comic
novel Perspolis tells
her story of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution
and the Iran/Iraq war [See excerpt: "Days
of our lives"]. Reading Perspolis gives
those of us who know little about Iran a glimpse of what life
is like there. Satrapi's historical summaries have
been criticized for "lacking insight". More important,
however, is her portrayal of Iranians and of the struggles they
faced, and are still facing, in post-revolutionary Iran.
Although Canada is considered a multicultural
country there is still little intermixing between Canadians who
were born here
and Canadians who have immigrated here form other parts of the
world. Consequently, our perceptions of other countries and cultures
are still largely formed by what we see in the media. In a time
when more and more media outlets are being controlled by fewer
people, these perceptions are often one-dimensional and rarely
Unfortunately, our perceptions of Iran and Iranians
are often negative--linked to fundamentalism and terrorism.
Obviously, this problem is not confined to Canada. In fact, Satrapi
cites these prevalent negative perceptions as her motivation
for writing Perspolis. In her introduction she states,
old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection
with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism. As an Iranian
who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that
this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Perspolis was
so important to me." As a fifth-generation Canadian who has limited
knowledge of the history or current situation
in Iran, Satrapi's book did, indeed, show me a more accurate
and more human picture of Iran and of Iranians.
Perspolis is told through
the eyes of ten-year-old Marjane who is struggling to understand
the changes occuring in her country
as a result of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Confusion is a
sentiment that permeates the book. As a child, Marjane is puzzled
by the sudden and contradictory changes. Before the revolution
she went to a French, non-religious, co-ed school. After the
revolution there were no more bilingual schools and boys and
girls were separated.
Upon returning to school after the revolution,
Marjane and her classmates are told to rip-out all photographs
of the Shah from their school books. As Marjane notes, this same
teacher taught them that the Shah was chosen by God. For a ten-year-old
these sudden changes and obvious contradictions are difficult
to understand. For the Canadian reader, it is important to note
that someone as young as Marjane Satrapi can remember pre-revolution
Iran. The current Islamic laws that govern Iranians are just
over 20 years old. Fundamentalism has not always ruled in Iran
and the people are obliged to follow the Islamic laws whether
they agree or not.
As Marjane gets older, life continues to be confusing.
Because she is the daughter of leftist, intellectual parents,
taught and practiced inside the house are in direct opposition
with the imposed way of living outside of the house. This kind
of double life leads to a certain level of secrecy and paranoia.
Marjane and her family must be careful to hide their "inside"
includes dancing and wine making-- from new neighbours as they
don't know whether they are liberal or conservative.
Marjane becomes more independent and rebellious, her parents
are forced to realize the potential danger in this contradiction.
Like all parents, they want to teach her their own values and
beliefs. But, because these beliefs are in opposition with
those imposed by a strict government, it may be dangerous if
acts inappropriately or attempts to defend them. Like many
Iranian parents at that time, they chose to send Marjane to Europe
avoid this danger.
By portraying this confusion and the obstacles of daily living
in Iran, Satrapi succeeds in creating a fuller, more three-dimensional
image of Iranians. In effect, she humanizes a one-dimensional
stereotype and forces the western reader to acknowledge that
not all Iranians are Islamic fundamentalists. Just like in Canada,
or anywhere else, you have people who are very religious, people
who aren't, people who drink, people who don't,
hypocrites, intellectuals, leftists, conservatives and so on.
In fact, the personalities in Perspolis are very open,
very intellectual and are not in agreement with the Islamic regime.
Although one of Satrapi's goals is to educate the western
reader on Iran and Iranians, Perspolis seems to have
a message for Iranian readers as well. Marjane's preoccupation
the difference between social classes is an important element
in the novel. Marjane's maid, Mehri, is more like a sister
than hired help. The two girls spend countless hours together.
When Mehri falls in love with the boy next door, it is Marjane
who writes the love-letters and facilitates the relationship.
In the end, however, this relationship is doomed because,
as Marjane's mother says, "in this country you must
stay within your own social class." It is her confusion
and sadness for Mehri's predicament that helps the young
Marjane understand why she feels so ashamed of her father's
cadillac--the difference between social classes. Just as
Marjane's story allows us to better understand Iranians
in general, Satrapi's heartfelt account of Marjane and
Mehri's relationship reveals the difficulty and unfairness
of being poor in Iran.
Perspolis is, at once, informative, funny, touching and sad.
It is interesting and entertaining for Iranians and non-Iranians
alike. At a time when so much media attention is being given
to Iran, this glimpse into life in Iran is very welcome and
Marjane Satrapi lives in Paris and is currently
on Perspolis 2 >>> Arts & Literature
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