I just finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the most astonishing comic book I’ve ever seen. Persepolis tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, during which she witnessed the repressive regime of the Shah, then the takeover by Khomeini (who made the Shah look like Mr. Rogers), then the war with Iraq. What makes the story so compelling is not the horrors — next-door neighbors killed by an Iraqi missile, relatives tortured and executed for counterrevolutionary activities, etc. — but Satrapi and her friends’ absurd attempts to enjoy a normal childhood while all of this was going on. She describes how the girls in her school, suddenly forced to wear veils, would put them on backwards and pretend to be “monsters of the darkness”; how her dad brought her an Iron Maiden poster from Turkey by weaving it into his suit, lurching through airport security like Frankenstein’s monster; how a food shortage that emptied the supermarkets of everything but kidney beans provided an occasion for fart jokes. For me, reading this book only deepened the mystery of Iran: namely, how could such a funny, literate, humane country be conquered so completely by fundamentalist thugs? On reflection, I guess it’s happened before. And I guess I should be grateful that in the US, our secular institutions are strong enough that even Bush hasn’t destroyed them entirely.
Persepolis raises pointed questions about the naïveté of intellectuals, like the Iranian Marxists who refused to see the Islamists for what they were until it was too late. To any intellectuals still in Iran, I can only second Eldar’s advice, in the comments to a previous post: Get out! Get out now! And to everyone else, set aside a couple hours (which is all it takes) to read Persepolis. It might be the first comic book to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.