The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was my introduction to the graphic novel genre. Of course I read comic books when I was younger, but I did not see the value of “grown up comics.” This book changed my perception of graphic novels.
Before we start discussing the book, it is important to have a conversation about the word graphic. One of the biggest misconceptions I hear when introducing a graphic novels to anyone is the idea that graphic refers to excessive violence or explicit sex. Let’s dispel that notion right now. While it is true that there is some violence and sex in graphic novels, it is no more prevalent in these books than any other genre.
Another misconception about graphic novels is that they lack literary value. I have to admit I didn’t even consider reading graphic novels before they were introduced to me by a professor. After reading The Complete Persepolis, I can wholeheartedly state that I believe graphic novels have a place in the literary arts. After you read it, I think you will agree.
The Complete Persepolis tells the story of Marjane Satrapi, known in the book as Marji, growing up in Iran during the revolution. We see the effects of the revolution, not only on the country and its people, but on Marji and her family specifically. She shares with us the pain, the horror, the uncertainty, and the strength of the time.
You will learn a lot about Iran and its history. Even if you know something about this country, The Complete Persepolis will allow you to see it from a different point of view. You see it though the eyes of a young woman growing up in Iran.
I used this book often in classes I taught at university. Every time I assigned this book, I would get at least a handful of students who thanked me for forcing them to read it. They likely would not have picked it up on their own, partly because of the subject matter, but mostly because it was a graphic novel. A misunderstood double whammy.
This novel is a beautiful illustration of a young girl, not unlike most young girls you know, coming of age. She tells of the struggles she has with her religion, family, friends, school, and the rules of her new world once the revolution begins.
The story is made even more effective through her use of images. The images are simple, making it seem that this could take place anywhere or happen to anyone. At The New York Film Festival Press Conference with Satrapi covered by IFC News in 2007, she spoke about how this was her intent. She wanted people to easily see themselves in the story and realize that we are all human beings. It allows you to see our similarities instead of focusing on our differences.
When I would assign this novel to my students, I did so in conjunction with another assignment. I asked them to locate a news story portraying Iranians in a positive light. This further opened their eyes to how the ideas they had about Iran was formed. As Satrapi states in the introduction of the novel, “[T]his old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half my life in Iran, I know this image is far from the truth.”
Here are a few questions to keep in mind while reading to help with a better discussion later (just to get you started):
- How do the images support the text and vice versa?
- When is the imagery most effective?
- What similarities do you see between Marji’s world and your own?
- How would you describe Marji?
- Does that description change as she grows up? If so, how so?
- How would you describe her family? Mom, Dad, Grandma?
- What did you learn from this novel?
This story provides us with a glimpse of a life that we don’t hear about often. Don’t be discouraged from reading it because it is a graphic novel.
Did you like the book? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Note: This Book Discussion is based on The Complete Persepolis published by Pantheon Books which includes Persepolis (2003) and Persepolis 2 (2004). It was originally published as two volumes in the United States.