I bought the complete collection of this comic by Marjane Satrapi last fall when I was rage-buying books by people of color. Then Book Riot challenged me to read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in my country, and when I found that this fit the bill, I lost no time in picking it up off my shelf.
I really enjoyed it. Satrapi wrote an introduction in which she gives a brief history of Iran and some of the more common misconceptions from which it suffers today, especially in the West. It’s a memoir of Satrapi’s life in Iran, starting with her childhood.
The beginning is adorable. I thought Satrapi did an excellent job of giving the young child’s perspective of everything, including the big ambitions we tend to have for ourselves as children (she’s convinced she’s going to be a prophet) and our tendency to develop firm political convictions before we even know what we’re talking about.
At first, everything seems to be going pretty well in Iran. Satrapi’s family is making good money and she’s attending a French school.
Then the Islamic Revolution happens.
The Shah (who had been put in power in the 1950s by Britain and the USA, who didn’t like the previous prime minister nationalizing the oil industry), fled the country and the Islamic regime took his place. That’s when everything changed.
Satrapi’s parents were educated, free-thinking people and they wanted their daughter to be the same way. They gave her plenty of books from an early age and told her stories of their own struggles growing up during the coup of the early 1950s when the Shah had been put into power. Because of the turmoil they lived through almost thirty years earlier, Satrapi’s parents are convinced everything will turn out all right in the end, they just have to stick it out through the rough spots.
Which is not to say they’re passive. They go to protests all the time when the Islamic fundamentalists start to take over. Satrapi’s mother even has a photo taken of her at a demonstration that becomes famous and requires her to hide her identity for a while to hide from the extremists who want to put her in a veil and/or execute her.
When things start to get bad, people start leaving. Neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family all flee to places like America to get away from the extremism, but Satrapi’s parents are determined to stay to help make things better. Also they don’t want to give up everything they’ve earned to move to America and work in low-paying jobs like nursing and taxi driving.
But things don’t get better. They get worse. Outspoken individuals are arrested, tortured, and sometimes executed. Sick people who need to get out of the country for medical care can’t get a passport until it’s too late. When one person is under suspicion, the entire family is also suspect, and neighbors are turned against each other and encouraged to spy on and report each other. They go to war with Iraq and live through bombings of their own city.
Satrapi rebels against all the new restrictions put in place by the new Islamic regime, especially at her school, which eventually expels her. Finally her parents decide to send her to Vienna so she can be free and get a better education. Despite their insistence that they should stay in their own country to make things better, they don’t want their daughter to stay when they know she could be thriving elsewhere.
So teenage Satrapi goes off to Vienna on her own to get a better education. She makes some friends, but it doesn’t last long. As an Iranian, she faces a lot of assumptions and misconceptions and she feels very isolated because she can’t find anyone else who truly understands her.
She moves back to Iran, falls in love, and studies hard to get into art school, but there are still problems. She and her boyfriend have a hard time being together because the Islamic regime doesn’t allow pre-marital relationships. They can’t show any public displays of affection and they can’t get an apartment together until they’re married. They’re ready for what would be the next level in the West, but the next level in Iran at the time was marriage, for which they were not ready.
They took the plunge anyway and promptly got divorced when it became clear it wasn’t going to work.
In the end, Satrapi left Iran (presumably for good, since it is the end of the book). Having known freedom in Vienna, she can’t go back to the ridiculous restrictions at home, so she leaves.
I was so glad to have read this book and learn more about a country about which I had previously not known much of anything at all. But it does make me wonder about our own situation right now, since “how to move to Canada” was the most-searched topic on Google last year. After the election, a lot of people were saying we have to stay to make things better, but that’s what Satrapi’s parents thought and look how that turned out. Nothing got better and they had to say goodbye to their daughter so she could have a chance at making a life for herself. Is that really the best course of action for us?
What did you guys read this week? Anything else that made you rethink our current situation?