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Same Time, Different Place

From across the world, our Radio Reader BookByte contributor prayed for the 52 Iran hostages when she was a girl the same age as Marjane Satrapi
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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From across the world, our Radio Reader BookByte contributor prayed for the 52 Iran hostages when she was a girl the same age as Marjane Satrapi

This is Leslie VonHolten calling in from the High Plains of Kansas with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte.
Since its publication in 2003, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi has become one of the most highly regarded graphic novels and memoirs. Her stripped-bare but expressive illustrations drive the narrative just as much as her words.

This is Leslie VonHolten calling in from the High Plains of Kansas with another HPPR Radio Readers Book Byte.

Since its publication in 2003, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi has become one of the most highly regarded graphic novels and memoirs. Her stripped-bare but expressive illustrations drive the narrative just as much as her words. It’s incredible to me that the first time I read it was nearly 18 years ago. But I think I enjoyed it even more this second time around.

The novel is focused on young Marjane’s experiences as a child while living in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. Her parents are activists; they have friends and relatives who are political prisoners. Fear and heartbreak are the currents in young Marjane’s life, but she is still a child—her innocence in the face of world events, her wonder and love and fury at the events around her, are so magically conveyed on the page.

The history of Iran is hard; understanding the people and the culture requires knowing so much more than the images we see on television and the narratives told to us by politicians. But I credit Satrapi most of all with her laid-bare honesty. In this story, she is a child finding her way in the world, just as her world is finding its way within the most dramatic of circumstances.

Perhaps this book impacted me so much because I am nearly the same age as the author. I think back on my life in 1980, a small-town Kansas tomboy also trying to figure things out in my own world. Interestingly, on my list of prayers in Sunday School in those years was for the safe return of the 52 American hostages in Iran who were held captive for over a year. People that young Marjane thinks about, too.

I knew about the hostages, and some of the turmoil happening in the Middle East, thanks to a teacher who believed it was vital for us country kids to know more about the wider world beyond the fields around us. She kept a count of the days the hostages were held in captivity in the hallway; each day the ticker was updated. This small acknowledgement—that we here in Kansas are thinking of you, fellow Americans—was immensely formative to me. It pulled me out of my own experience every day to give a thought to others.

These days as teachers and libraries are under growing—and bizarre—pressure to remove books that may make kids “uncomfortable” for telling one’s lived experience in the context of ugly history, I think of my teachers in the 1970s and 1980s, and how they discussed tough issues with us. They were kind; they did not intend to scare us. But by sharing stories, they developed in us a connection with people we didn’t know, in a land we didn’t understand, which sparked something we need much more of these days: empathy for our fellow humans.

To me, Persepolis is a powerful testament for telling our stories, for being aware that history always has roots, and for teachers who open our eyes to the experiences of others, even to worlds we may never visit. Empathy grows in this fertile soil of knowledge and understanding.

Kids are tough and can take some discomfort. When children learn of others different from themselves, children who face monstrous challenges, they never turn that knowledge into self-guilt. Instead, they recognize resilience and strength, qualities that they cultivate within themselves. Books like Persepolis strengthen our empathy and allow us to build a better world.

This is Leslie VonHolten for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club. I encourage you to read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Find more at HPPR.org or Like us on Facebook.

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