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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood    by Marjane Satrapi order for
by Marjane Satrapi
Order:  USA  Can
Pantheon, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Marjane Satrapi has an unusual heritage - as the only child of Marxists and also the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors. In Persepolis, she gives us a unique account of her life in Tehran from age six to fourteen, during the Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq. This is an autobiography in a tragicomic cartoon format, that is remarkably effective.

The clear-eyed wisdom of the child Marji sheds a light on events that is at times ironically funny and at others devastatingly sad. She talks about 1980, 'the year it became obligatory to wear the veil at school' and shows us little girls treating their headdresses as new play accessories in games like 'Giddyap!' She shows us her parents' commitment to demonstrations and to revolution, the fear that often accompanied their actions, and the fact that they still maintained a maid and a Cadillac. Her early desire to be a prophet and fix her grandmother's knees is endearing and amusing, and the fact that her parents gave her a 'comic book entitled "Dialectic Materialism"' is hilarious.

But cartoon depictions of Marji's recollection of events like the massacre at the Rex Cinema, accounts of Savak torture, and her last meeting with her beloved uncle Anoosh in prison, are all stark as a child's nightmare. Then comes the occupation of the US Embassy and the war with Iraq, during which a friend's father was released from prison only to die soon afterwards as a pilot in the war. The author shows us ideological differences in small rebellions in dress, in which modern women let 'a few strands of hair show' and progressive men tucked in their shirts. She shows us young boys sent to die in war with a plastic key to Paradise around their necks.

Gradually Marji's minor rebellions at school escalated and, for her own safety, her parents sent her to Austria. Persepolis does a brilliant job of showing this critical period in Iran's history through the eyes of an intelligent, spirited child (my teenage son enjoyed it just as much as I did). It's an accessible, innovative biography, not to be missed by young or old.

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