Culture versus politics

Author Marjane Satrapi discusses life, and Persepolis


Marjane Satrapi

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to the Museum of Fine Arts to hear a talk by Marjane Satrapi. After all, I had only heard of her from a discussion in my French IV class that same week when we watched her movie Persepolis.

She began her talk with a certain F-word, probably to loosen the crowd, and that’s when I realized this was not going to be the traditional, boring speech that I had expected. My friend Arturo S. Campos, who also went to meet Satrapi commented, “I really didn’t expect her to be so funny and engaging.”

She was in fact very funny and also insightful in her understanding of cultural tidbits. This is in part because she says exactly what she thinks, and she doesn’t try to buffer it into something more politically correct. In fact, she avoids politics altogether, saying that it is not in her realm of work as a writer.

Primarily, she spoke about her debut masterpiece Persepolis, which is about her own experiences growing up in Tehran. Satrapi grew up amidst communist and socialist movements in Iran prior to the Iranian Revolution. As a child, she witnessed how the oppression brought on political unrest. Her autobiographical graphic novel Perspepolis refers to the great ancient capital of the Persian Empire in name only; its content depicts the grim life of children growing up in a post-utopian power struggle between political forces.

To me, Persepolis is more of a memoir than an autobiography. Not only does she tell her story in comic form, but her informal choice of language and use of hyperbole also allow the reader to make a more intimate connection to her story. The English version of Persepolis came in two installments: The first describes her childhood in Tehran, and the second describes her life in Vienna as a teenager. Personally, I love the minimalist black and white theme of the book. The art form is simple yet provocative in the story it tells. During her talk, Satrapi said that it took years for someone to finally convince her to make a movie out of her book: “When you make a movie out of a book, the movie always turns out bad,” she explained. However, when her book was finally made into a movie, she was the director. Seeing Persepolis the movie is like watching the comic characters come to life. The movie, like the book, is minimalistic and is almost entirely in black and white.

It may be surprising that as the author of such a book as Persepolis, which takes its roots in politics, Satrapi refuses to comment when a journalist asks her about her views on the current political atmosphere of Iran. As a writer, she believes it is not her job to be a political commentator. On the other hand, it is her objective to create cultural understanding between the Eastern and the Western worlds. She commented that “many people in the west … when you say you are from Iran, they view you as an animal.” This is why, in Persepolis, she denied her nationality when she was studying in Vienna. With Persepolis, she hopes to generate tolerance between people of all nationalities, and show that her story is universal.

In addition to Persepolis, Satrapi has authored several other graphic novels. Some of her books are geared towards children, like Les Monstres N’aiment Pas la Lune. Another book, Poulet aux Prunes, was released to theaters in 2011.