Persepolis — Climbing the Stairs with a Librarian

Welcome back to “Climbing the Stairs with a Librarian,” a series of blog posts where we explore the classics painted on the O’Fallon Public Library’s main staircase. This month’s book is “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi.

“Persepolis” is about Satrapi’s childhood in Iran which took place during the Islamic Revolution. It is written as a comic book in stark black and white drawings which makes it quite impactful.

The book’s title, “Persepolis,” comes from the ancient Persian Empire’s capital.


Plot Summary

Readers meet Marji, a ten-year-old and we get to experience her childhood throughout the Islamic Revolution. Through her eyes, we learn about the fallout of war and religious extremism.

Marji is fortunate in that her family is upper-middle class and she reads everything she can get her hands on, including Western books and she listens to Western music as well. Through her various relatives including an uncle, she learns about politics and political demonstrations against the Shah, a few of which she participates in.

She and her family believe life is going to be better in Iran after the Shah’s exile, but religious extremism pops up in his wake. Restrictions on freedoms and required head scarfs make Marji’s life quite difficult. She buys Western music on the black market and nearly gets arrested for her western clothing.

Marji’s family begins to fear for their lives after her uncle, Anoosh, is arrested and executed. But they continue to have hope that things will get better in the future. After a family vacation to Europe, Marji’s family returns to a country at war with Iraq. There are bombings in and around Marji’s neighborhood and she becomes used to running to the basement during raids.

The death of one of the families on her block angers Marji and she begins to speak out against the government in earnest. Her family decides it will be safer for Marji to be educated in Europe and the book ends with her departure from Iran.


Controversy

Even though Persepolis was well received critically including appearing on The Guardian list 100 Best Books of the 21st Century, it also was challenged in various school districts in the United States. Because of challenges, Persepolis made ALA’s list of “Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2014”. Some of the challenges were because of “graphic language and images” used in the book.

I recently read Persepolis for the first time and, though the themes are serious, I didn’t see anything offensive. I encourage readers to examine the work for themselves and see what the book is about.

The graphic novel format makes it a quick read and also appeals to reluctant readers. If you’re more into films than books, Persepolis was made into a movie in 2007. At its debut at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Jury Prize.

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