March Books 5) Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi

I’m startled to see that it is four and a half years since I read (and greatly enjoyed) the first volume of Satrapi’s autobiography. At the end of the previous book she had managed to get out of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Austria. Persepolis 2 falls into two halves: her Austrian experience, and then her return to Iran, at the end of which she emigrates again to France. In both Vienna and Tehran, she is in a relationship whose breakdown is a key factor in her decision to leave. But the narrative similarities between the two halves of the book actually help to contrast the huge differences between the two. In Vienna, she is an immigrant, sworn at by old men on buses, bereft of family links, ending up sleeping on the streets in the middle of winter. In Tehran she is spoiled by her experience of the outside world, picks fights with the religious authorities, has difficulty fitting back in. (In both cases, though this is not quite how she outs it, she struggles with substance abuse and depression.)

The story of the education of Marjane is told with detachment, and occasional amusement and shame at the actions of her younger self. As with the first volume, however, the real strength of the book is her depiction of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where few actually support the principles of the revolution, but all must pay lip service to it, and all women must obey the dress code. (She also answers a question I almost asked a few weeks back.) As an art student, she has the bizarre experience of trying to draw a fenale model whose body is completely covered; the girls solve this by modelling for each other at home. She successfully challenges the college to change the uniform for female students, and ends up designing it herself. Finally, at the end of the book, she and her husband embark on a grand project exploring Iranian culture and mythology; but in the end it turns out to be incompatible with the principles of the Islamic Revolution, and their marriage ends, and Marjane leaves for France.

It’s all in black and white: on the surface there appear to be no shades of grey in Satrapi’s world. But if you look closely you can see that they are there.

One thought on “March Books 5) Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi

  1. Fair enough, you’ve caught me being Eurocentric — or at least OSCE-centric. I was thinking of the former Yugoslavia, Czech/Slovak to a lesser extent, and most of the former USSR, though of course that is much murkier, with many peoples whose self-determination left them without states.

    I agree that unrecognition is an interesting state in and of itself, and worth looking at as more than just an anomaly, as some of the so-called anomalies are proving surprisingly durable. Are they durable because they’re useful in some way to powerful actors within the state system? Or are they durable because none of the major actors care enough to iron out the contradictions? Looking at the existing European statelets, I’m tempted to theorize that either case may hold but that the middle is likely excluded. Nobody cares enough to resolve any contradictions arising from Andorra or San Marino, while a Transnistria or a Northern Cyprus is useful enough to a powerful constituency to endure.

    Outside of Europe, though, I’m out of my depth.

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