"And Back Again" review by Chavisa Woods
Persepolis 2, the story of a return - Marjane Satrapi
We’re going to an anarchist revolutionary party in Viena. The year is 1984. The party is taking place in the middle of the forest, around a bonfire, littered with college students who have pledged their allegiance to Bakunin. The agenda: Hide and Seek, Volleyball, Tag, and Janis Joplin songs.
When we last left Marjane Satrapi she was getting on a plane, at her parent’s urging, fleeing a war torn Iran to pursue higher education, as well as a more liberated and peaceful life in Europe. In Persepolis Two, the story of a return, Marjane Satrapi chronicles her journey as an Iranian coming of age in western Europe, only to return to a fundamentalist Iran, and again, returning Europe. Sound complicated? It’s not.
In this one-hundred-and-eighty page graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi has packed the rich experience of what seem to be her most formative years, alongside the continued transformation of Iran from a secular to a fundamentalist State. This transformation is magnified by her experiences as college student in secular Europe. She seems to embody the former spirit of Iran, attempting to fit in with her ‘radical’ peers in Europe and always being viewed as too timid. Although she has experienced first hand, the type of war her European peers devote much of their time to theoretically protesting, she is not sexually promiscuous, does not inhale when she smokes pot, and does not feel the need to constantly quote popular anarchist credos. They label her a conservative.
When she returns to Iran, she is viewed as too liberal. Although she doesn’t wear makeup and dye her hair blonde, which has become the trend of Iranian women her age, she is not a virgin, does not believe it is a sin to live with ones boyfriend, and is highly vocal about her political views. It is equally as difficult for her to find peace with her identity as an Iranian woman in Iran as it was in Europe.
This internal struggle is overwhelmed by the external transformation of her country. The first time she takes a walk after her return, she is shocked to find nothing about her home familiar or comforting. The street signs have been renamed after martyrs, and sixty-foot high murals and banners broadcasting such slogans ‘the martyr lives forever,' cover the buildings on each street and avenue.
To say the least, Marjane Satrapi has chosen highly politically charged subject matter. Still, the extraordinary thing about this book may not be its political views or social commentary, but its ability to engage the reader on a softer, personal level. She has chosen not to exclude aspects of her life which, in works like this, can sometimes become masturbatory; The evolution of her relationship with her mother and father, body image, and of course, romantic involvements. The simple, almost innocent, black and white drawings add to its human appeal. Although I’ve never experienced a fundamentalist revolution, never been the victim of racial profiling, or lost family members to political unrest, at no time while reading this did I find myself saying, “I can’t imagine what that would be like.” Persrepolis Two engages the reader without the feeling that its trying too hard, and in the end one comes away with the experience of identifying with a life they may have otherwise viewed as foreign.