I first read this intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture, and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it, and should be read widely for the message it conveys.
The first half is about Majane Satrapi’s childhood. She is the only child of elite, well-to-do parents who have progressive ideals. The book balances the innocence of her childhood with the greater social-political unrest that was swirling around her. As a child she did not understand all that was happening and only knew of the Iran of her present circumstances than the more liberal Iran of the past. But yet, she was aware of friends and loved ones being taken away, and sometimes killed by the Islamic Revolutionists, because of their different political beliefs.
As she became a teen, Marjane’s upbringing led her to start questioning and rebelling against the fundamentalism of the era. This put her and her family in peril, due to her lack of restraint. The last pages show her parents sending her to Europe to further her education, for her safety and theirs. While she needed to escape, for her rebellious attitude certainly would have brought ruin to her family, sending her away to boarding school in another country was heartbreaking to the whole family.
The second half of the book covers her teen years through her early 20’s. Marjane wasn’t always likable and made some terrible choices in Austria, some of her own doing, and some due to lack of an adult support system there. Eventually, she heads back to Iran after her schooling. Having felt unmoored away from home, Marjane is glad to be back home, although her time there is still tenuous due to the continuing political climate. She immerses herself back into her family and culture, and at this time collects the stories she will share in the book, Embroideries, about the secret lives of women in Iran. She has an unhappy first marriage while home, and knows that her future will need to be elsewhere if she is to lead an authentic and safe life as an adult.
I was interested in Marjane’s childhood and her teen years, as they correlate roughly to the time I was growing up. As a mother myself now, I was also interested in the perspective she had of her mother and father, for the book seemed to be a valentine to her parents and culture. The black and white illustrations are deceptively simple, but convey so much feeling, mood and history to the reader. Bravo to the author who shared this beautiful memoir about her beloved family and society with the outside world.