– a Youth Spent in Iran and Vienna
This week, from 21 to 27 October 2013, the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin, in cooperation with Kulturkind e.V., will host readings, workshops, and an open day for the public with the theme “Multifaceted: a book week on diversity in children’s and youth literature.” Employees of various departments have been vigorously reading, discussing, and preparing a selection of books for the occasion. Some of these books have already been introduced here over the course of the last months.
In her autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, the author Marjane Satrapi, born in 1969, portrays the history of her native Iran as well as that of her own family. The two are closely interwoven. Marjane grew up in Iran during a time of upheaval: when she was ten, the Shah was overthrown and people danced in the streets. But the feeling of liberation was brief. Soon the new religious regime began to enforce its ideas of morality and decency. It forbade alcohol and Western music, insisted that even non-religious women wear the veil, and put opponents into prison or had them assassinated. Marjane’s open-minded, liberal parents are understanding and give her space and freedom. But she finds it difficult to adjust to the rules outside their home. She rebels against the dress codes, goes to parties, and argues with her teachers.
When the situation intensifies during the Iran-Iraq War, Marjane’s parents send their 14-year-old daughter to Austria to protect her. This is where the second half of the book takes place, with the story of Marjane’s experiences in exile and her longing for her family. Even as she enjoys her friends and the freedom of secular Western society in Vienna, she never quite feels that she belongs there. She tries to forget Iran and to deny her own ancestry. She fights with everything: religion, society, people. With cropped hair in exile just as with a head scarf at home, she is constantly searching for herself.
In 2007 the book was made into a film of the same name. You can watch the trailer here.
Since the book was already published in 2004, we didn’t include it in the final selection for our prospectus, “Multifaceted: Diversity in children’s and young adult literature.” But we can write without exaggeration that Persepolis is a masterpiece. It addresses from many angles questions of belonging, ostracism, home and freedom, and at the highest artistic level. We recommend it without reservations. The combination of the graphic style together with autobiography offers readers a very particular access to the story: though the drawings may at first appear striking and simple, the story that Satrapi tells is much more. Because the novel is written from the perspective of an adolescent, the impressions, thoughts, and feelings it depicts come across as lively and authentic. You can really feel Marjane’s anger over the injustices she suffers in Iran, her later shame about her background, and her longing for home. And in reading the novel you get an intense impression of the Iranian Revolution’s impact on everyday life (with a picture of Iranian society free of the clichés that Western media tend to use) as well as the dilemmas and ambivalence of a life of emigration. At the same time, Persepolis is also a coming-of-age story that tells of young people’s universal need for independence and of the experience of friendship, exclusion, and loneliness.
Christin Zühlke, Education, and Henriette Kolb, Media
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return, translated from the original French by Blake Ferris and Mattias Ripa, Pantheon 2004 and 2005, 160 pages and 192 pages, 14 years old and up.