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The True Heroes

Did I identify as an Old World Roman Catholic from Hungary or not?
FOTO:FORTEPAN / Jezsuita Levéltár, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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Did I identify as an Old World Roman Catholic from Hungary or not?

My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas. I’m here to talk about Persepolis, a two-part autobiographical narrative by Marjane Satrapi.

My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas. I’m here to talk about Persepolis, a two-part autobiographical narrative by Marjane Satrapi.

This graphic novel is a multi-layered reading, one full of interesting explorations of religion, warfare, education, socio-economic status and identity. In the novels, Marjane depicts her childhood up to age 24 in Iran and Austria during and after the Islamic Revolution.

My review will mostly involve my personal background vis a vis Marjane’s experiences and feelings.

One of the main points of the novel is to break stereotypes of cultures different from our own and to normalize conflict and belonging as a way of life, not just in the Middle East.

As an immigrant from Hungary during the 1956 Hungarian revolution, I know all too well the conflicting emotions of belonging and not belonging. One is constantly looking for an identity and a sense of place.

As Marjane depicts in her coming-of age story, a child can have more than one identity in her core. Marjane sees herself as being part of a modern family with understanding parents and, at the same time, she wishes (early on anyway) that she could be a prophet.

She loves technological devices but she also loves the Veil.

In my case, the Veil can be replaced with a hidden inability to speak English. Children were not kind in kindergarten when I said, “Hail Mary, full of Grapes” instead of “Grace.” What can a 5-year-old child know about Grace anyway, I wondered?

Radio Readers BookByte contributor Andrea Elise as a child in Hungary.
Andrea Elise
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Radio Readers BookByte contributor Andrea Elise as a child in Hungary.

Like Marjane, I wasn’t sure how to identify myself: old world Roman Catholic and all that entails, or a different way of looking at the new world around me.

I also experienced stereotyping when I was a Peace Corps teacher in South Korea from 1977 – 1979. Many Koreans viewed Westerners in a way similar to how revolutionary extremists in Iran viewed others. Western women in particular were seen as loose and dishonorable, as portrayed in movies Koreans watched at the time.

Grief is also a central theme in the novel. So many people Marjane knew were tortured and killed. The deaths of her maid, Uncle Anoosh and her Jewish friend are particularly shocking. What that must do to a young girl’s mind and spirit is heartbreaking.

As an immigrant, I also knew the feeling of loss all too well. You grieve for the people who are no longer in your life (in my case, grandparents who helped raise me), and you also sense the grief of your parents who gave up everything to leave their homeland, family and friends to attempt a better life.

When Marjane was growing up, a golden key was the ticket to Paradise and those lucky to die in war received that key since they were martyrs for Islam. In my case, martyrs were also revered as higher beings. However, in Roman Catholicism, a martyr did not have to go to war for God but had to affirm God’s existence and teachings when challenged.

Still, being a martyr is a demanding concept for anyone, especially a child. Why should children be exposed to that notion? Doesn’t it take away the innocence and purity that a child should possess to be emotionally healthy?

I agree with Marjane’s conclusion in the first book that heroes do not have to be imprisoned, tortured or die. Instead, the people who protect their families at critical times: They –They are the true heroes.

This is Andrea Elise for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

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Spring Read 2022: Graphic Novels—Worth a Thousand Words 2022 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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