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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return Review

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
By Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Books; $17.95 Hardcover

In Bellingham, WA, there is a great locally owned bookstore called Village Books that is constantly growing and thriving. In fact the store is preparing for an expansion. I happened to stop by the store earlier this week, and the first thing I saw when I walked into the store just about brought a tear to my eye. Persepolis 2 was ranked as the #13 best-seller in new non-fiction. It thrills me to think that people are picking up such a worthy book and perhaps being turned on the graphic novel form at the same time.

Maybe this shouldn’t be such a big surprise since the book has received ample attention from the mainstream media. That and the simple fact that both Persepolis 1 and 2 are very good books.

You can read my look at Satrapi’s first book, “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” here. In the first book we watch Marji grow up in Tehran, Iran dealing with typical kid issues -- fitting in, figuring out who you are -- and then not-so-typical issues -- war, death, and a repressive government regime.

The new book, “Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return,” picks up where the last book left off. Marji’s parents are sending her to school in Austria out of worry for her safety. Marji has a rebellious streak and a flair for speaking her mind – two very dangerous things in Iran.

In Austria Marji hits her teenage years in full stride. She finds it difficult to connect with most Europeans and finds being a foreigner a difficult prospect as well. Her descent into self destruction picks up speed with drug use, rejection, and loneliness; and ultimately Marji ends up homeless and homesick. Even with mind-boggling repression and fundamentalism, Iran is still her home – still the place where she grew up and where her loved ones still live.

So, Marji returns home to Iran to face a different set of challenges and a new part of her life. Nearly 1 million people have died in the Iran-Iraq war, the fallen soldiers have been elevated to martyr status, and questioning the government is just as or more dangerous than before.

While on an intellectual level I am aware of conditions as bad as Iran and even worse in many places around the world, emotionally, I cannot wrap my mind around things such as being arrested or possibly worse for wearing make-up or a graphic artist who has his hand cut off for drawing a bearded man for a magazine illustration.

One passage particularly hit me. From page 148: “The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my make-up be seen? Are they going to whip me?’ No longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, is it livable? What’s going on in the political prisons?’ It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression.”

Satrapi’s journey in these books is a very personal one and unique to her experience, yet she has a knack for both pulling out that which many can identify with and bringing out that which others may not be able to identify with but that needs to be known or understood nonetheless.

Satrapi’s two Persepolis books are a must read for anyone who enjoys an intelligent and different book.

Bottom Line: A

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