Read the World: Iran

I didn’t really know much about Iran, other than it doesn’t get on with neighbouring Iraq much, so Persepolis gave me a brief introduction on its more recent history. Before the comic strips start there is also a brief recap on the country’s history to put Marjane’s experiences into perspective.

As long as there is oil in the middle east we will never have peace.

The story spans from 1979 to 1994. Young Marjane is attending a French school when the Islamic Revolution happens. The co-ed schools are segregated and she’s forced to wear a veil along with all the other women in the country. She’s at the age where she doesn’t take things that seriously and the anecdotes are full of humour, sometimes in the face of terror.

Her parents are quite liberal and like to attend demonstrations. She learns about her grandfather’s past and his ultimate imprisonment as a communist. Her Uncle Anoosh also spent time in prison and she becomes quite close to him when he comes to visit. She learns a lot about what happens to people who don’t conform to what a good Iranian should be. The Guardians of the Revolution go round reporting immoral behaviour, such as wearing make-up or being seen with an unrelated man in public. Marjane laughs at them but they are quite sinister. You can see where Margaret Atwood got some of her ideas from.

This period also covers the Iraq-Iran war, shows how everyday life was affected as well as the huge loss of life. Later on, Marjane writes about the Kuwait refugees from the Gulf War, their attitudes to women making Iran seem positively progressive in comparison.

The second part of the book details Marjane’s life in Austria where she is sent after her parents decide Iran isn’t safe for a questioning young teenager such as herself. Whilst she is keen to meet and befriend “real anarchists” and get herself a boyfriend, her time is shadowed by the loneliness of a young refugee, split up from her family. She shows how easy it is for refugees to bounce from place to place, never finding a real home and even facing homelessness.

The more time passed, the more I became conscious of the contrast between the official representation of my country and the real life of the people, the one that went on behind the walls.

I did find the parts set in Iran were the most interesting, but I do think her time abroad adds an important angle to this memoir. When she returns to her homeland she feels like she doesn’t belong there any more. She’s too Western for Iran and too Iranian for the West. It’s moving, fascinating and funny, all rolled up into one illustrated package and I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn a little bit about the Middle East from a more personal perspective.

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Book Source: Purchased