Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Childhood Lost

I would have probably never read Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi unless my English teacher hadn’t assigned it. (It’s not too often that I wander into the graphic novel section in the library.) Most of the time we fear reading books given to us by teachers. ‘Will I understand it? Will it be drop-dead boring? Will it have gum from the previous user stuck on page 103?’ (Okay, maybe we don’t ALL fear that...) The point is, I hardly expected this book to change my life. But it did. As, I am sure, it will change yours.

It’s a world that is hard for any of us to imagine; growing up in your country as it goes through a revolution. Young Marjane (or, as in the book, Marji) is living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Some of us might have learned about the Revolution in school, but most of the time all we hear are the cold-cut, dry facts. That’s perhaps why it was so interesting to peek into a young girl’s life and see what she saw, feel as she felt and learn from her experiences. The Middle East is a complex area of the world where everything seems backwards and it’s hard for anyone who doesn’t live there to comprehend what is considered normal. (Sometimes the story got confusing simply because it was hard keeping up with all the political changes Iran went through. If you get stuck, I suggest rereading that part or asking your parents about the Islamic Revolution.)

The story starts with Marjane when she was 10 years old back in 1980. At first, her 10-year-old-self doesn’t seem to fully grasp what is happening to her country, but, then again, nobody seemed to. Marjane and her friends made jokes about political leaders and invented games to play with their veils. But soon girls and boys were separated into different schools. (“We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends.” – Marjane) Slowly-but-surely small changes where becoming big changes and the restraints put on the citizens were getting harder to ignore.
Through the book we see her grow from a youthful girl who wanted to be a prophet to a pre-teen that questions if God even exists. She hears of deaths in the media and watches as many of her friends leave the country. To say the least, Marjane is lost; just trying to find a way to keep her head above the water as everything she’s ever known is thrown it doubt.

One time, Marjane sees her parents going out to protest and decides to go with Mehri (a girl that works for her family) to a rally. “We had demonstrated on the very day we shouldn’t have: on “Black Friday.” That day there were so many killed in one of the neighborhoods that a rumor spread that Israeli soldiers were responsible for the slaughter.” – Marjane.

As we read Marjane’s story it is easy to see that she is an activist. She learns to speak her mind (though probably not always to her advantage) and stand up for what she believes is right. And while her views are still forming and moving away from outside influence, she still has a powerful sense of justice. And Marjane goes out and learns on her own; determined to understand the confusing turns her country was taking almost every day. (“Cadaver, cancer, death, murderer...laughter?....I realized then that I didn’t understand anything. I read all the books I could.” – Marjane.) Many of her classmates didn’t have the same reaction as Marjane and simply watched as events way above them took place.

Still, despite her advanced comprehension of what was happening she still took ideas from the media; which was being censored to air only certain views. She, with some of her classmates, heard that a boy named Ramin had a father who “killed a million people”. So it was “my idea to put nails between our fingers like American brass knuckles and to attack Ramin,” Marjane said. Even though Marjane learns how to peacefully demonstrate, she still has moments when her first instinct is to fight. “My blood was boiling. I was ready to defend my country against these Arabs who kept attacking us. I wanted to fight,” Marjane said about the second Arab invasion.

Marjane’s story is riveting and eye-opening. It gives us a glimpse into a life we can’t even imagine unless we’ve lived it. A lot of reviews I’ve read call it short and “...conveys neither the emotional depth of Maus nor the virtuosity of Joe Sacco's journalistic comics." - Joy Press, The Village Voice. Personally, I think that to judge this book against any other is just ridiculous. Maus is powerful in it’s unique way just as Persepolis is when it stands by itself. The depth of Marjane’s emotional journey is truly extraordinary. This book isn’t a light read, and at times it made me cry, but it is “one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day. (Satrapi’s) is a voice calling out to the rest of us, reminding us to embrace this child’s fervent desire that human dignity reign supreme.” – Los Angeles Times.

In a lot of ways I admire Marjane Satrapi. She grew up during an extremely difficult time in her country and yet was able to take that experience and teach the world. The Revolution very well could have crushed her spirit, but instead it made her stronger and more outspoken. Many of her opinions during the book are naive and childish, but that’s the point; she was a child. She tried to grow up faster because, perhaps, she was hoping that things would make sense as an adult.

I must put a disclaimer on this book. I wouldn’t recommend it for girls under 12 because it does deal with some hard topics like war, torture and questioning faith. For others of you, if you do not like reading about the effects that revolutions have on children, I would stay away. But in my opinion, anyone old enough and who can read, should read this book. If you liked this book I suggest reading Maus by Art Spiegelman (another graphic novel), A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi (I recommend this book for 14 and older; it does deal with more adult issues than the first.)

(Many of you might be wondering about the whole ‘graphic novel’ reference I made in the first paragraph. Yes, Persepolis is a graphic novel, but that is part of it’s power. Marjane was able to take just black and white and create an incredible story. I know some of you won’t like the format no matter what, but I still encourage you to give it a try.)

“...this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten. One can forgive but one should never forget.” – Marjane Satrapi

War and revolution; it hurts everyone. It hurts the people who fight in it. It hurts the friends, lovers, and spouses left behind. And it hurts the children; the truly innocent. They are thrust into a world where nothing seems to make sense and the place they call home is no longer safe. That is one casualty of war that is never listed on TV, like the many soldiers who have lost their lives; a childhood lost.
Peace, friends.

1 comment:

Sheae said...

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~
Pablo Picasso

Growing up quotes