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What Marjane Wants Us to Know

1979 Iranian Women Day's protests against Hijab
https://zeitoons.com, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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1979 Iranian Women Day's protests against Hijab

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The books are “Persepolis” and “Persepolis 2” by Marjane Satrapi. Marjane Satrapi was 10 in 1979. I was tending bar and waiting tables at The American Restaurant, the fancy-dining restaurant on top of Hall’s at Crown Center in Kansas City, working with an Iranian waiter and his Iranian wife. Their country was coming apart from the reports we heard.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The books are “Persepolis” and “Persepolis 2” by Marjane Satrapi. Marjane Satrapi was 10 in 1979. I was tending bar and waiting tables at The American Restaurant, the fancy-dining restaurant on top of Hall’s at Crown Center in Kansas City, working with an Iranian waiter and his Iranian wife. Their country was coming apart from the reports we heard.

I remember extending sympathy to them because they didn’t know how their relatives were back home, the shah had left. I thought that was a blow for them. I hadn’t a clue about SAVAK or the coup of 1953 or that the Shah was an autocrat. Nor would I learn of the US role for many years. Somehow, I thought, as did so many, that Iranians had become unhinged and savage, with no apparent reason.

In her introduction, Satrapi writes, “Since then (1979), this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.” Satrapi wanted to give the world a better picture of Iranians and Iran. And why a comic book (graphic novel) method? She is an artist, so it is her medium. She thinks her prose doesn’t covey her meaning, doesn’t measure up to Hemingway and Dostoevsky and that she loses humor. She chose French as the language for the original because she was writing for a French audience and the language shapes how she expresses her thoughts.

Satrapi sees the images with storyline as a powerful and efficient means of conveying layers of information. And why a book? She tells us that she heard a French author say that for him writing was the only way of speaking without being interrupted.

As a young girl, life changes for her when the revolution comes around. At first her parents attend protests to get rid of the Shah. The protests become dangerous. Then she and their maid go to a protest which becomes deadly, in the “Black Friday Massacre.” When the Shah does leave, the government changes hands a couple of times. For her it means that secular schools are closed, then opened as religious schools and she is required to wear the veil. She had been in a French language school, but bilingual education is forbidden. Behind their veils the girls get away with all they can between themselves.

There were reasons for the revolution. I should say revolutions. This was multilayered and those who started the protests to bring down the Shah were blindsided by the Islamists who basically rolled over them to take over in the end. Then it became an Islamist cultural revolution.

Many of the original protestors now found themselves as prisoners of the Islamists, including many in the military, such as pilots. Then Iraq attacked Iran. A friend’s husband who is a military pilot is released from prison on condition he will fly bombs to Iraq. He is killed in the mission.

Before long, Marjane takes up smoking. Her sign of rebellion, one of many small rebellions. She knows friends and acquaintances who are killed in the war or killed by the regime. Marjane starts speaking out, contradicting her teachers. To a teacher who says Iran has no political prisoners Marjane says, “My uncle was imprisoned by the Shah’s regime, but it was the Islamic regime that ordered his execution.” – “… we’ve gone from 3,000 prisoners under the Shah to 300,000 under your regime. – How dare you lie to us like that?”

That was when her parents decide they need to send her away to high school in Austria. They remind her that another young woman, Niloufar was executed as a communist. But because there was a law against killing virgins, the regime first married her to a man who raped her so that she could be killed.

Her folks say they will follow her, but never do. At the airport she turns around one last time before boarding the plane, to see her mother has fainted and is being carried by her father. “It would have been better to just go,” she writes.

Marjane Satrapi’s drawings are powerful, with foreground characters and backgrounds populated with undercurrents and support players. It is easy to see how this turned into a movie. Satrapi, after talking about being 10 in 1979, starts her story as a young girl wanting to be a prophet. She was told she could not be. She was a girl. But she was always looking for a way.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, 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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