Islam Meets Puberty In Persepolis 2
By Amy Diaz
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, by Marjane Strapi, Pantheon, 187 pages.
What’s more difficult than life in the oppressive regime of fundamentalist Islamic Iran?
Being a teenage girl. Marjane Strapi witnesses the Islamic Revolution of her country in her first book, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. In this book, she escapes to Vienna and the promise of a liberal education out from under the veil. But, while she encounters a variety of prejudices and incredible torment over the dueling desires to both go home and keep her freedom, her deepest moments of angst come from very universal, very teenage senses of loneliness, rebellion, self-consciousness and a deep desire to be loved.
Islamic fundamentalism? Forget about it. Try suddenly growing boobs. Now that’s a revolution.
The book begins with a 14-year-old Marjane arriving in Vienna to begin schooling. Her problems are unique (she speaks no German, public sentiment is very much against Iran, Austria is seeing a rise of xenophobia) and common (she has a tough time fitting in). A dark-featured girl in a northern European country, Marjane agonizes over the war in her homeland but also, and with equal fervor, she agonizes over her appearance and her ability to find and keep a boyfriend.
And then, about 60 percent of the way through the book, this budding European intellectual returns to her parents in Iran. After growing up in a very recognizable society of relative openness and a lax attitude towards premarital sex, Marjane chafes against the strict separations between men and women. She finds herself in love but also in something of a bind — unable to go out with her beau. The only real way for an Iranian couple to get to know each other is get married. Marjane eventually does, an act which creates a whole new set of problems and turmoil for her.
Oh, and I probably should mention that all of this happens in comic panels a little smaller than wallet-sized photos.
Much like Art Spiegelman’s excellent Maus, Persepolis 2 captures the personal and the political brilliantly. Relatively simple drawings convey emotion with laser precision. We watch Marjane grow up and her appearance change as well as her surroundings. With all the depth of a traditional biography, Persepolis tells Strapi’s story with a cinematic ability to let us “see” the scenes unfold.
Engaging and thought-provoking as a window on a turbulent political environment, Persepolis 2 really soars when it tells the author’s own story of budding adulthood.
- Amy Diaz
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