Life During Wartime: ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi

Did you know most books are way better when you read them in a language you understand? It’s true! Technically, I’d read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis once before, in a college French course I was only taking because I’d hated Spanish in high school and figured I might be better at French (nope. I’m just pathetically inept at languages). A surefire way to not appreciate a book about the complexities of Iranian politics is to “read” it in a language you can’t even hold a conversation in, unless that conversation only includes the words “hello,” “goodbye” and “McDonald’s.”

After several wonderful readers and my friend Christine recommended Persepolis for Young Adult Education, I decided to give it another chance. It turns out it’s a wonderful book and it quickly became one of my favorite graphic novels ever. Who knew? Oh, everyone knew except for me? Well, whatever. The point is I’ve read Persepolis now and it’s fantastic. If you haven’t read it yet, you should drop what you’re doing and read it right now.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a black and white graphic novel about growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. From wearing a veil to the whippings, executions and bombings she later hears about (or witnesses), Satrapi experiences the indignities of an oppressive regime and the horrifying atrocities of war. What’s more, she experiences all of this as a very young girl.

Although Persepolis is both beautifully drawn and informative, its most impressive feat is putting a human face on a distant war. Many of us see Iran as a far away country that’s very different from our own. I’ll admit I was definitely guilty of this myself; it’s easy to paint the entire country in broad brushstrokes (Violence! Oppressed Women!) that encompass every citizen. And while it’s true that the government did terrible things, the people of Iran are strong-willed, vibrant, smart, funny and political. They’re people, just trying to live their lives despite a political culture that makes it impossible for them to do much of anything. Even wearing a veil improperly and showing the littlest bit of hair is dangerous. But Marjane is still interested in fashion and dressing “punk.” She wears a denim jacket with her veil and her mother knits her a sweater with holes and makes her a necklace of chains and nails. She buys Kim Wilde tapes on the black market, wears a Michael Jackson pin and hangs an Iron Maiden poster in her room. She is, essentially, just like any other girl in any other country. The only difference is that hers is at war.

What Persepolis shows us is that war is a cruel and heartbreaking thing that destroys lives, homes and countries, but it can’t ever destroy humanity. That spark of life is always there in Satrapi and the people she writes about, whether they’re listening to punk music or challenging the government. Satrapi reminds us that despite our differences, we’re all still affected by the same things. And although Satrapi and her family are beaten down by the war, they go through it with heads still held high and hearts still beating. Still human.

Some Highlights:

-If you want more Persepolis, you’re in luck: Persepolis 2 is just as great. It continues to follow Satrapi as she leaves, and then comes back to, Iran.

-Be sure to check out the film version of Persepolis. It was nominated for an Academy Award and features the voices of Sean Penn and Iggy Pop (in the English version).

-If you’re still jonesing for more Marjane Satrapi, pick up her book Chicken With Plums. Like Persepolis, it was also made into a movie!

Have you read Persepolis or watched the film? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear about the books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, e-mail me at or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

(Book Cover Image via Pantheon.)