Friday, 14 May 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Persepolis

Dear Blog,
Foreign Language  Friday returns as ever. 

Name: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
 Originally published in: French.  In France it was first published in four volumes, and in English two- Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return.  My copy (cover on the left) has both books- put together it's about 350 pages give or take.  
Translated by: Anjali Singh

Summary (from the blurb): The intelligent and outspoken child of two radical Marxists, and the great-granddaughter of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquwly entwined with the history of her country.    Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life.  This is beautiful and intimate story full of tragedy and humour-raw, honest and incredibly illuminating.

Review: The summary from the blurb doesn't exactly give much away.  The two books combined, it's the story of Marjane's life from the age of six pr seven to twenty-four, growing up during the time of the Islamic Revolution. At the end of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Marjane is sent to Austria, and spends about the first half of The Story of a Return there. 
I read this a couple of weeks ago and it's still stuck in my head.  Every time I go to my bookcase I take Persepolis  off the shelf for a minute to  just think about it.  There's a quote on the front from Mark Haddon that says, " will remember it for a very long time."  And you will!  As soon as you've finished you'll want to read it again.

Some of the reviews on have complained slightly about this book because published like a paperback book, the print's too small, and it should have been published in a more comic-book style. But  to my youthful eyeballs, I think it's fine, so I have nothing to complain about there.

On the subject of the print and such, the artwork and writing style is fantastic.  The artwork's quite simplistic yet effevtive-because it's told from the point of view of a child, this simplicity seems fitting. The writing is told in the first  person past tense.  But as the book goes on, and Marjane grows up, the writing seems to sound more and more mature,   Like Marjane was just recounting her daily comings and goings at the end of the day. 
If that makes sense. I think reviewing books makes you go slightly mad. 

And the story itself?  Well, I read Elizabeth Laird's novel Kiss the Dust a couple of months ago, but though that's set partially in Iran it's more about Kurdish culture than Iran.  So I guess you could say this is the only book set in Iran I've read *hangs head in shame at un-worldliness*.  Anyway, I thought it was a fascinating insight into Iranian history, culture etc.   The Story of a Childhood was probably my favourite of the two, which was mostly about Marjane's life in Iran at the height of the Revolution, and the contrast between traditional home life and modern life (perfectly and simplisticly shown in the picture below). It was, for a book about such grim subjects, surprisingly...what's the word? Well, the way it was written it sounded almost light-hearted through Marjane's innocent eyes, which was strange because some parts of it were truly horrifying, the stripped-down images more haunting than if they were elaborate detailed images.  The Story of a Return was the gritty account of her four years as a teenager in Vienna and her return to Iran of the title,  years as a student, marriage, et cetera, summed up best about her life as "A Westerner in Iran and an Iranian in the West". 

Summary: I'm not sure exactly what rating to give Persepolis. It's a strange, haunting book(s), in turn funny, horrifying, bitter, fascinating, tragic, and heartwarming. Much like The Book Thief, I can't help but ask, "in what sort  of way am I rating it?  By plot?  by characters?  By the writing? So, well, it shall remain unrated.  It's certainly a book to read before you die.

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