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I was a Westerner in Iran, an Iranian in the West

Before the revolution, our main character was a quick-witted, sharp-tongued young lady who enjoyed western fashion and punk rock. After the revolution, like other women in Iran, she was expected to wear the veil, dress conservatively, and reject all western influence.
Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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Before the revolution, our main character was a quick-witted, sharp-tongued young lady who enjoyed western fashion and punk rock. After the revolution, like other women in Iran, she was expected to wear the veil, dress conservatively, and reject all western influence.

Hello, Radio Readers; this is Kim Perez, and I am coming to you from the history department at Fort Hays State University. The books I will be discussing, the two-book series Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi, are the first in our Spring 2022 reader’s theme: Graphic Novels:  Worth a Thousand Words.  If you love a compelling story and appreciate the power of the graphic novel to convey the nuances of a story, then these books are for you.

Hello, Radio Readers; this is Kim Perez, and I am coming to you from the history department at Fort Hays State University. The books I will be discussing, the two-book series Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi, are the first in our Spring 2022 reader’s theme: Graphic Novels:  Worth a Thousand Words.  If you love a compelling story and appreciate the power of the graphic novel to convey the nuances of a story, then these books are for you.

Persepolis and Persepolis 2 tell the story of the childhood and adolescence of Marjane Satrapi, the author, and illustrator of the novels. Satrapi was born and raised in Iran until she was fourteen years old, and then she was sent away to Austria because her parents feared for her life and future in Iran. When she was about eight years old, the Iranian Revolution occurred, and it ushered in a new religiously conservative regime. Life changed for Satrapi at that point. Before the revolution, she was a quick-witted, sharp-tongued young lady who enjoyed western fashion and punk rock. After the revolution, like other women in Iran, she was expected to wear the veil, dress conservatively, and reject all western influence. She was also expected not to challenge authority, something she had difficulty doing. Hence, she got in trouble for wearing the wrong clothes, not wearing her veil properly, and rejecting authority. Her parents feared that she would be arrested, imprisoned, and possibly even executed, so they sent her to live with friends in Austria and attend a French school.

In Austria, she assimilated to western culture but also realized how Iranian she was: she was raised to believe that you should always respect the elders in your family, understand that family was the most important thing, and even held some conservative views about intimacy with the opposite sex.

Ultimately, after some turmoil in Austria, she ends up back in Iran, where she finds comfort in the family fold. But, because she had known the freedom of living without parental supervision and the strictures of the fundamental religious culture of Iran, she does not fit in her homeland. One of the most gut-wrenching passages of the books was on page 118 of Persepolis 2. Satrapi writes: “I was a westerner in Iran, an Iranian in the west. I had no identity. I didn’t even know anymore why I was living.” She is miserable in Iran, and her identity crisis ultimately leads to her attempts to take her own life. But she fails. She concludes that it must have been divine intervention and decides from that point on that she is going to do something with her life. It is at this point that education becomes the source of her freedom and happiness, and she applies for university and eventually leaves Iran to study art in France, leaving her family one final time.

Most of us remember what it felt like to be frantically searching for our identity in our youth. It was a challenging time, filled with insecurity, fear, and pain. Satrapi’s story is relatable because we recognize some of her struggles. But the most significant part of her story is that of a young girl, bouncing back and forth between a religiously conservative Iran and western Europe, and between a reality where women were deprived of their rights and required to be submissive, to one where women were empowered. Add those struggles on top of the ever-present struggles of youth and adolescence, and you have a genuinely compelling story.

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