Many memoir writers are not terribly good at really being honest with the reader. While writing a memoir should be a reflective exercise, oftentimes the writer simply justifies past actions, rather than admitting when those actions were wrong.
Marjane Satrapi is brutally honest about herself, and this is what helps make The Complete Persepolis an interesting, and important, read.
Marjane was born into a very interesting time and place. Raised in Iran during the Iran/Iraq war, even as a young girl she has had strong opinions and convictions that didn't always match up with the popular opinion. In the first story, when she is now required to wear a veil in the newly conservative school, she needs to come to a decision on her own about what is right and wrong with her relationship to God. While throughout her life how her relationship with God changes and grows, the relationship is always there.
Being an outspoken opinionated female in any Muslim country is a perilous prospect. When the country the girl is in is undergoing a fundamentalist revolution, the situation becomes more dire. In fact, as Marjane becomes older and even more rebellious, her parents arrange for her to live in France. While there, she rebels even more strenuously, even going so far as to move to Amsterdam for a short time.
One of the most painful scenes in the book shows when Marjane points out a random, innocent man on the street to divert the attention of the police off of herself. She absolutely deserves the shaming she receives from her mother when she returned home. In the way of most young adults, she really didn’t think of the consequences her actions might have on that man and his family. It would have been very easy for Satrapi to leave this event out, but putting the story in helps to show the growth and maturity Marjane gains later in the story.
It would be very easy for Marjane to justify her rebellion and bad choices on anything from the Islamic Revolution to bad parenting. However, Marjane takes full responsibility for her decisions. This changes the book from the story of a spoiled, bratty child and young adult, to the story of a woman who looks back at her life with a more experience eye, and has learned from both the good and bad choices she has made.
Persepolis also has a special place in literature as one of the first biographical graphic novel to get both critical and popular acclaim in the US. While the WW II stories Maus and Maus II came out well before Persepolis, the story of Persepolis got more mainstream media attention upon release due to its subject matter, as well as a considerable publisher push and movie tie-in. For many pop lit and book club reader Persepolis was probably the first “comic book” they have read in decades. If the surge in graphic novel memoirs as well as nonfiction graphic novels in general is any indication, Persepolis must have made a good impression.
Highs: Little Marjane's conversations with God
Lows: Watching Marjane rebel against what she still knew was wrong in France and Amsterdam
Verdict: A painfully honest look at the life of an upper-class women during the Islamic Revolution
Futher Reading: The Complete Maus, Pyongyang