October 22nd, 2008

_The Complete Persepolis_, Marjane Satrapi

I was really bummed that I missed reading _Persepolis_ by about a month with the local book group back before the move to Seattle. Back then, the group really hated it, judging by the ratings collected after the fact. But several of us currently wanted to give it a shot, so back it came and for no particular reason, I wound up with the copy that had _Persepolis_ and _Persepolis 2_ in it. So I _don't_ get to find out how the story continues; I'm all done. Oh well.

First off: check out that last name. A Satrapy was a province in the Persian empire; a satrap would have been a governor of a province. Province being a very rough-and-ready equivalent. Satraps were a much more independent administrative unit and instead of being part of a unified taxation system, they were responsible for turning over tribute (at least, this is what I remember from years ago). You could think of this last name as kind of like having the last name "Duke" or "Prince" -- and actually having royalty in your relatively recent family history.

Second: this is a memoir I actually believe. And not because the characters actions make sense to me. More because the characters actions match parallel situations I know more about (the cultural revolution in China; the Weimar Republic): some people leave, some people stay. The ones who stay take what appear to be insane risks for minimal payoff. Raising kids in this environment is essentially an impossible series of compromises: safety vs. raising a decent human being who has a shot at leaving the toxic environment and going somewhere better (or making the toxic environment a better place), etc.

These are graphic novels, black and white only (so no color/inking, no clay coat, etc.). The art is stylized in a way that makes for a remarkably fast read in a graphic novel. The story is compelling: it tracks the life of the author/protagonist from just before the revolution in Iran. Her parents and most of her extended family are Marxists (and also in a very high social class in pre-revolution Iran) and when the revolution becomes Islamic, things get really ugly. Marjane describes her fascination with death and torture, and her attempts to make sense of serial imprisonments of relatives, friends and acquaintances. Her family wrestles with their decision to stay and eventually sends Marjane to Austria (because it's the easiest place to get a visa to -- this may explain the rise of Waldheim, actually) for her high school years as it becomes increasingly clear that if she stays, she'll probably wind up dead and worse.

_Persepolis 2_ describes Marjane's years in Austria, her developing sexuality and problems with various substances as she wrestles with her loneliness and difficulties of developing an identity in a completely foreign culture with no one like her to connect to. Eventually, after nearly dying while homeless for a few months, she returns to Iran and then struggles to re-adapt to her home country after experiencing sexual and expressive freedom in Austria. She ultimately attends art school in Iran, marries, divorces, and again leaves Iran, this time her own choice. Amazingly, she and her parents survive to the end of the war with Iraq and its aftermath.

These are really amazing books and definitely worth the time to read and think about (and find people to discuss them with). They are not a straightforward condemnation of Iran (or Iraq, or the West or anything, really). They would make a worthy contribution to a seminar on revolution, religion, or the psychology of nihilism or any number of other themes. Also, they are entertaining to read. Highly recommended.

ETA: For those who, like me, wish the story continued, I'll just point out here that while the French language Persepolis extends to #4, 1 & 2 in French became 1 in English and 3 & 4 in French became 2 in English.

ETA2: But _Embroideries_ is an opportunity to read related stories.

new kitchen sink!

And the whole house humidifier is plumbed but still needs to be wired.

The sink is awesome, altho we'll need a different soap dispenser because the throw is not long enough for this particular sink configuration. It came with the faucet, which is awesome: it has a pull-out sprayer and a single handle control that can be used with the back of the hand or wrist or whatever.


the decadence of enough child care

Despite J. canceling, we had enough child care for R., A. and I to go out to lunch in Nashua and then do a little shopping. We got T. a mouse costume for Halloween and me several bags full of sweaters from Target that are (a) not neutral colors and (b) not Eddie Bauer T-shirts. Some of them even have patterns on them, like argyle and stuff. Shocking, really. I've been wearing some incredibly boring clothing.