||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (February 2015)|
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Covers of the English version of Persepolis Books 1 and 2
|Date of publication||2000|
|Date||2003, 2004, 2005|
Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi depicting her childhood up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The title is a reference to the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, Persepolis. Newsweek ranked the book #5 on its list of the ten best fiction books of the decade. Originally published in French, it has been translated into several languages including English.
French comics publisher L'Association published the original work in four volumes between 2000 and 2003. Pantheon Books (North America) and Jonathan Cape (United Kingdom) published the English translations in two volumes, in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Omnibus editions in French and English alike followed in 2007, coinciding with the theatrical release of the film adaptation.
Satrapi and comic artist Vincent Paronnaud co-directed the derived animation movie, which is also called Persepolis. Although the film emulates Satrapi's visual style of high-contrast inking, a present-day frame story is rendered in color. In the United States, Persepolis was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2007 Academy Awards.
Persepolis details Satrapi's life during the war between Iran and Iraq. Persepolis depicts Satrapi's childhood in Iran, and Persepolis 2 depicts her high school years in Vienna, Austria and her return to Iran where Satrapi attended college, married, and later divorced before moving to France, where she now lives. Hence, the series is not only a memoir, but a Bildungsroman.
Awards won by Persepolis 2 include the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize for Scenario in Angoulême, France, for its script and in Vitoria, Spain, for its commitment against totalitarianism. It has been translated into English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Swedish Georgian and other languages, and has sold 1,500,000 copies.
1: The Story of A Childhood
Section 1: The Veil – symbols of personal and cultural identity
Introduction to Marji and a child’s view of the Islamic revolution: Marji is ten years old in 1980, the year after the Islamic Revolution, when girls were obliged to wear the veil and segregated by gender (where she previously attended co-ed) and secular education was abolished. She struggles with the meaning of the veil, coming from a religious but modern, avant-garde family. By the age of six, Marji felt that she could correct what she saw as injustices in her world by becoming a prophet. She discusses Zarathustra, the first prophet in Iran and the traditional Zarathustrian holidays she enjoyed with her family prior to the revolution.
Section 2: The Bicycle – a revolution is like a bicycle (they will stop if they do not maintain their momentum)
Marji observes the oppression by the Shah and learns about revolutions and socialism - she refers to Leon Trotsky, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, The American-Vietnam war, the Socialist revolutionaries of Iran (Frezaï, Fatemi and Ashraf), Descartes and Marx. Her favourite comic book “Dialectic Materialism” inspires her anti-authoritarian/patriarchy attitude and behaviour but she is barred from attending protests due to her age.
Section 3: The Water Cell – Iran’s political past
After a long day of socialist protest, ironically Marji wants to play Monopoly. Instead her parents tell her the truth about her historical and family background in contrast to the propaganda she learns at school. She learns that 50 (1925) years ago, the father of the current king was Reza Shah, a low-ranking and illiterate, but ambitious young officer who was influenced and supported by the British to organize a coup d’état to overthrow the Qajar emperor, who also happens to be her great-grandfather. Under the empire of the Shah, her grandfather’s family had everything confiscated and her Western-educated grandfather was appointed as prime minister, but became a communist and was imprisoned. In prison, her grandfather was forced to sit in a cell filled with water for hours. Marji loses all interest in Monopoly, and decides to sit in a bath instead to understand what her grandfather might have gone through.
Section 4: Persepolis – the fall of the great ones
Marji’s grandmother visits and she learns more about the hardship her family endured and that although Reza Shah had been brutal, his son Mohammed Reza was ten times worse and kept her grandfather imprisoned. Marji’s mother and grandmother worry about her father who is overdue and Marji starts fantasizing about him being shot. However, Marji’s father appears and tells them all the story of how an old man who died of cancer was turned into a (false) martyr in the name of the revolution. Marji realises how much she doesn’t understand about things during the conversation and vows to read everything she can.
Section 5: The Letter – class-consciousness
Marji describes reading Kurdish author Ashraf Darvishian (an Iranian Charles Dickens) who makes her more aware of class structures in her society, even within her own home. Her nursemaid, Mehri was taken in by her family at the age of eight as a housekeeper and was only ten when she was born (1972). By the age of sixteen she was madly in love with the neighbour’s boy but once he discovered that she was the maid, his interest ceased, which of course broke Mehri’s heart. Marji did not understand why, as her father explained, “their love was impossible” since one must stay in one’s own social class. Marji sees this as unfair and one of the reasons for the revolution, so she convinces Mehri to attend anti-Shah demonstrations with her on Black Friday (1978), a day when many demonstrators were shot and killed by the Shah’s armed forces for which they received a stern rebuke from Marji’s mother.
Section 6: The Party– in celebration of the end of the monarchy
The massacre of Black Friday was only the beginning of a long period of violence, which led to the decline and exile of the Shah in Egypt. His departure prompted the biggest celebration in the history of Iran. Marji becomes more aware of politics and the fickleness of human nature as she observes former supporters of the Shah now touting pro-revolution propaganda and support. Marji incites action against her classmates who were children of the Shah’s secret service (Savak) who unapologetically killed and tortured a million communists. Marji’s mother suggests more tolerance and forgiveness towards such people, and Marji tries hard to do so.
Section 7: The Heroes – the release of the Shah’s political prisoners
3000 political prisoners were released (March, 1979), and Marji’s family knew two of them who were imprisoned for communist revolutionary acts. When they came to visit, their family is shocked by their tales of enduring horrific torture by Iranians who had “received special training from the CIA” and the deaths of many of their comrades. Marji experiences shame that her father is not a ‘hero’ of the revolution and is confused by her mother who is now saying that “Bad people are dangerous but forgiving them is too. Don’t worry there is justice on earth”. Marji has no idea what justice is. Now that the revolution is complete, she abandons her Dialectical Materialism comics and seeks solace in her faith.
Section 8: Moscow – the return of a Russian-educated family hero
Marji is over-joyed by the visit of one of her father’s five brothers, her uncle Anoosh, who was imprisoned for nine years as a communist revolutionary and hero of the revolution. He tells her how her grandfather was loyal to the Shah, but his uncle Fereydoon was devoted to ideals of justice and democracy so he had gone along with a group of his friends and attempted to bring about independence from the Shah in the province of Azerbaijan. Anoosh joined him, much to the dismay of her grandfather, and together they plotted the freedom and independence of all provinces in Iran. Fereydoon was arrested and executed, but his girlfriend escaped to Switzerland with their son. Anoosh was able to escape to the USSR where he became a Marxist–Leninist scholar and married a Russian woman and had two girls. Anoosh tells Marji that Russians aren’t like Iranians, they don’t have hearts, so they were divorced and in his attempt to return to Iran to see his family, he was discovered and imprisoned. He encourages Marji to remember his story, even if she has difficulty understanding it, because it is their “family memory” and it must not be lost, then gives her a swan he made in prison.
Section 9: The Sheep – naïve idealism
In discussion with Marji’s father, her uncle Anoosh points out that since half of Iran’s population is illiterate, the people cannot be united around Marxist ideals, so only nationalism or a religious ethic would work. Eventually he thought the working classes would rule, and in a way he was correct. The exit of the Shah and the abolition of the monarchy paved the way for Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic in 1979. Marji’s world is altered forever by the creation of the republic, as many friends and family leave Iran for the United States and Europe. Her uncle Anoosh encourages everyone by telling them that it is just a period of transition and that everything will work out. However they soon discover that their communist-revolutionary friends who had just been released from prison are either dead or fled (one of them is found drowned in his bathtub; the other had to cross the border with his wife and daughter hidden among a flock of sheep) and Anoosh is arrested and executed as a Russian spy. This leaves Marji in tears; with another swan he made for her she rejects her faith, lost and without bearing in the universe unable to think of anything worse – then bombs fell on Iran.
Section 10: The Trip – escape from turmoil
Fundamentalist students were reported in the news as taking over the US embassy – eliminating any future hope for Marji’s family getting a visa to join friends and family there. The universities were also announced as closed, pending reform (2 years) to prevent any more imperialist indoctrination, dashing Marji’s hope of a science degree. Marji’s mother, who correctly predicts that women will be forced to wear a veil, is accosted by fundamentalists for not wearing a veil. Marji’s family observe their neighbours once again changing their behaviour to suit the new regime as if they had always adhered to fundamentalist ways. Marji is encouraged to produce similar fabrications to safeguard her family and at the same time her family demonstrates for women’s rights, although this is brought to an abrupt end when demonstrators are violently attacked (1980). Marji’s family went on an abrupt vacation for three weeks to Spain and Italy, only to return home to the announcement of war with Iraq – the second Arab invasion in 1400 years and Marji was ready to fight
Section 11: The F-14s – Iraq invades
The sight of F-14s, not knowing if they are Iranian or not, frightens Marji and her family. A radio report confirms that the capital city of Tehran has indeed been bombed by Iraqi MiGs. Marji’s father is doubtful about Iran’s ability to defend itself since all the pilots were either jailed or executed after a failed coup d’état, an attitude that Marji interprets as defeatist and unpatriotic. They are all shocked and overjoyed when they hear the Iranian national anthem broadcast on the television as it had been banned and replaced by an Islamic hymn. They ascertain afterwards that the jailed pilots agreed to be freed in order to attack Iraq only on the condition that the government broadcast the national anthem. So the Iranians fought back and bombed Baghdad but it cost them heavily. Marji discovers that one of her friends at school lost her father in the air raid and was stunned that her attempts to console the girl with praises of heroism for her father was rebuked with “I wish he were alive and in jail rather than dead and a hero”.
Section 12: The Jewels – symbols of hope
The war brought strife to Marji’s neighbourhood as fearful people quickly bought out store shelves in order to over-stock their homes to provide for their families in case of diminished supply. Marji’s mother once again shows her duplicity by scolding bickering neighbours over hoarding instead of taking what they need so there is enough for everyone and then sending Marji to different shops to get as many boxes of rice as possible. The roads become overburdened with cars and a limited amount of fuel is available due to the Iraqi bombing of an oil refinery in Abadan and many other border towns. Marji’s mother becomes worried for an old childhood friend upon hearing the news of Abadan, but she unexpectedly arrives on her doorstep seeking refuge for herself and her family with nothing but the clothes on their back and a handful of jewels to pawn for their survival. They had a large, expensive (“That house cost a million!”) and beautiful home that took a lifetime to build but destroyed in an instant, then to add insult to injury, they were regarded with suspicion by the urbanites as threats both to their food supply and to their families (the women were accused of prostituting themselves for food).
Section 13: The Key – promises of paradise to the poor
Although the Iraqi army had more modern weaponry, Iran had a greater number of young soldiers. Marji notices the number of ‘martyrs’ reported in the daily news and the twice-daily funeral marches with self-flagellation sessions at her school. She feels that Persians are too resigned to the idea of martyrs and wars. At school none of the students take any of their duties to the new regime seriously, parents are frustrated that they are being forced to waste their youth on fundamental ideology and teachers are angry with their lack of respect for the new laws, threatening to expel them all. Marji and her mother discover that young army recruits from the poorer areas are given plastic keys painted gold and told that if they go to war for Iran and are lucky enough to die, the key will open the door to heaven for them where there was plenty of food, women and houses of gold waiting for them. It was in this way that Iran convinced thousands of young men to meet their death on the battlefield. Marji’s mother is able to prevent one young man from this fate while Marji enjoys her first punk rock house party.
Section 14: The Wine – symbol of decadence and defiance
After the border towns, Tehran itself became a target and the basement of Marji’s building was turned into a bomb shelter. This was part of an anxious new way of life for Marji’s family, where they routinely went to the basement with every siren that announced an air raid, followed by calling all their loved ones to ensure everyone was well. They lived in fear of being caught and punished for indulging in decadent (Western) behaviour, like playing cards, or chess, listening to music or watching videos and drinking alcohol. Nonetheless, having weekly parties or card games with wine expertly and secretly made by Marji’s uncle, was their only way to alleviate the stress of their new lives and a way to privately revolt against the new regime. On their way home from a celebration, Marji’s family is stopped by some very young Guardians of the Revolution, at one of their random check points. The Guardians threaten to punish Marji’s father (suspected of drinking and for wearing a necktie – symbol of Western decadence) and to search their house for more banned items, but her parents successfully convince them to forget the idea with a few sympathetic words and a small bribe while Marji and her grandmother needlessly destroy their entire stash of wine.
Section 15: The Cigarette – the loss of childhood
After two years of war, at the early age of twelve (1982), Marji is very astute. She makes friends who are slightly older than she is and like normal teenagers anywhere, they experiment with autonomy and sexuality by skipping classes and ogling boys at a trendy teenager hangout called Kansas. Marji expects to elicit some camaraderie when her mother discovers her bad behaviour but when she scolds her instead, she accuses her mother of being as oppressive as Guardian of the Revolution in their home. Marji learns that the Iranian army had successfully pushed the Iraqi army back to the borders and everyone thought the war would end. Instead, they plunged even deeper into war as the Iranian regime now sought to expand their Islamic Revolution, sacrificing another million to their cause. The fundamentalist regime used the war as an excuse to exterminate all internal enemies as well and became even more oppressive. Marji smokes her first cigarette as an act of typical teenage rebellion, believing that she left behind her childhood in the process.
Section 16: The Passport – the challenges and failings of bureaucracy
After sending his oldest son to Holland for protection before the borders were closed, Marji’s uncle Taher becomes deeply depressed and further disturbed by the slaughter of Iranian youth in the war and his inability to join his son. When he suffers his third heart attack it becomes apparent that he will not survive without being sent to England for treatment. When official channels to procure a passport take too long, Majir’s father attempts to acquire a forged one. However, the forger is discovered and forced to flee Iran without completing the passport for her uncle, who succumbs to his illness the day his official passport arrives. While at the hospital visiting her uncle, Marji’s family learns of the further despicable realities of the war in that Germany sells chemical weapons to Iraq to use on Iranians who are sent to Germany for treatment.
Section 17: Kim Wilde – symbols of rebellion
Only a year after her uncle’s untimely death (see section 16: the Passport), the borders were reopened (1983) and Marji’s parents go alone on a holiday to Turkey. While away they purchase many decadent items for Marji that were no longer imported to Iran due to war or religious bans and smuggle them into Iran for her. Marji receives a denim jacket, chocolate, a poster of Iron Maiden and a poster of Kim Wilde, high-top Nike sneakers and a Michael Jackson button. Marji immediately puts up her poster in her room and is eager to show off her new gear. She puts on her high tops, her denim jacket and “of course” her headscarf. With her mother’s permission, Marji ventures out to connect with the black market that has grown around the shortages caused by war and repression. After purchasing two illegal audiotapes, she is stopped by members of the new woman’s branch of the Guardians of the Revolution who are unimpressed with her new symbols of decadence, improperly worn head scarf and too-tight jeans and threaten to bring her in front of their HQ committee where she would likely be physically punished in some way and or detained without consent. Somehow, she manages to convince them to let her go and she returns home to listen to her newly acquired music: Kim Wilde’s "Kids in America" at full volume, to calm down.
Section 18: The Shabbat – the realities of war
Iraq acquired new long-range ballistic Scud missiles from the Soviet Union to use against Iran that would do more damage in less time, making the journey to the bomb shelter in the basement pointless. Once the sirens announced the bombs that targeted Tehran, there was only a three-minute warning to know if the end had come. Many left Tehran and some took refuge in the buildings of big hotels, but many stayed. Marji and her family stayed in Tehran, as did their (rare) Jewish neighbours. On one fatal Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Marji rushes home when she discovers a Scud has hit her street. Although she is happily reunited with her mother, she is saddened by the realization that her neighbours home has been destroyed and while hoping they were not at home, she unexpectedly sees the partial remains of her neighbour’s daughter and is overcome with rage.
Section 19: The Dowry – the price of freedom
In response to the death of her neighbour’s daughter, at the age of fourteen, Marji becomes a fearless rebel and is expelled from school. Her mother is gripped with fear by her rebelliousness, explaining that she risks execution, which is even worse for young women because it is against the law to kill a virgin. To circumvent this law, a Guardian of the Revolution will marry a condemned virgin, take her virginity, execute her, then sends a meagre dowry (and message) to her family. In order to save Marji from such a fate her family decides to send her to Austria to attend French school.
2: The Story of a Return
Section 1 (The Soup): Marji has just arrived in Vienna. She starts at a boarding house run by nuns and wondering what her roommate, Lucia, will be like. She then says why she was at the boarding house and not with her mother's friend, Zozo. She then tells what happened at Zozo's house. She didn't seem to like Marji much and there was a lot of fighting between Zozo and her husband. Plus, her daughter, Shirin, isn't like Marji remembers her and Marji doesn't like the new Shirin. When she arrives at the boarding house, a nun shows her around. She then experiences the freedom she now has by going shopping for her own food. When she returns, she meets her roommate. Lucia speaks German so Marji doesn't understand her until they were eating some soup and they found a way to communicate by writing out what they meant as pictures. The section ends with both girls watching a movie in the TV room and Marji leaves.
Section 2 (Tyrol): Marji starts the section with complaining about Lucia waking her up every morning at 6:30 with her hair dryer. A little after that, Marji starts to make friends at school when she gets the highest grade on a math test. She also becomes very popular for her unflattering portraits of teachers. Later, she is introduced to people who become her friends. They talk about what they are going to do during their Christmas break, which makes Marji feel left out because she doesn't celebrate Christmas and the Iranian New Year isn't until March. She goes back to her room and tells Lucia how she feels. Lucia offers to take her to her home town over the holiday to meet her parents. She went to the evening mass and had dinner with them.
Section 3 (Pasta): The next break, Marji listens to her friends' plans for winter break and comes up with her own excuse for what she is going to do: read. She spends her break reading and eating pasta. One evening she makes a big potful of spaghetti and goes down to eat it in the public TV room at her boarding house. One of the nuns tells her off for eating out of a pot, and then insults her for being Iranian, saying that Iranians have no education. Marji talks back to the nun, saying that she was a prostitute before becoming a nun, and ends up getting kicked out of the boarding house. She says goodbye to Lucia and leaves. Marji's friend Julie invites her to stay in her house with her and her mother.
Section 4 (The Pill): Marji starts living with Julie and is disturbed by how disrespectful she is to her mother, whom Marji respects. Marji and Julie have a talk before bed, and Julie tells Marji about her sexual endeavors (condoms, etc.), which Marji is shocked by because people in her country were never open about sex and related topics. Marji states "I was shocked. In my country even when you had sex before marriage, you hid it." Julie's mother goes on a business trip, and Julie has a party, but it is not what Marji expects. Instead of eating and dancing, people were just lying around and smoking. Later that night, she hears Julie and her boyfriend having sex, and is appalled. Marji would later call this her first step towards assimilating herself into Western culture.
Section 5 (The Vegetable): Marji discusses her changing physical appearance. She talks about how her eyes and hands seem to have become bigger. She starts cutting her own hair, and even selling haircuts to the hall monitors at her school. Her friends, who think the hall monitors are conformists, are displeased. Marji's friends begin to get into drug use, and Marji pretends to participate, but doesn't. She begins to feel like she is betraying her Iranian heritage. Finally, she overhears some people in a café talking about how she's making her past up, and defends her culture, then feels like she has redeemed herself.
Section 6 (The Horse): Julie leaves Vienna, and Marji starts staying in a communal apartment with eight homosexual men. Her mother surprises her by calling to say she is coming to visit, and arrives soon after. Marji spends time with her mother and, because her apartment is only hers for a limited amount of time, finds a new place to stay, a room in the house of Frau Dr. Heller.
Section 7 (Hide and Seek): Marji starts having trouble with Frau Dr. Heller, about the doctor's untidy dog. Marji 's boyfriend Enrique invites her to a party, and, although it's not what she expects, she has fun. She meets Enrique's friend Ingrid, and, when she wakes up in the morning with Enrique not next to her, jumps to the conclusion that he is in love with Ingrid, but, later that day, he reveals to Marji that he is, in fact, gay. Marji is feeling confused, and has a long talk with her physics teacher. She decides that she wants a physical relationship, and, after failing miserably with the boy she likes, begins getting farther and farther into drugs. She soon meets Markus, a student at her school, and falls in love with him, but their relationship is frowned upon by both Markus's mother and Frau Dr. Heller. Marji procures some drugs for Markus, and gains a reputation as a drug dealer. Marji feels ashamed and believes that she betrayed her country and her mother by not being the best she could be.
Section 8 (The Croissant): Marji is having trouble on her exams, so she calls and asks her mother to pray for her. In need of money, she ends up getting a job at a cafe. When the school year starts, she gets subtly told off by the principal for drug dealing. She stops, but ends up taking more and more of them herself, so much so that her boyfriend Markus begins to get fed up and it begins affecting her health. She begins to get involved with some of Markus' friends, and with protesting the new Austrian president, who Markus's friends tell her is a Nazi. Marji prepares to go away to spend her birthday with a friend, and is distressed by Markus's nonchalant reaction. However, she ends up missing her train, and goes to Markus's house to celebrate her birthday with him, only to discover him cheating on her by being in bed with another woman.
Section 9 (The Veil): Marji falls apart over her breakup with Markus, and, when she is accused of stealing Frau Dr. Heller's brooch, gets fed up and leaves. She spends the day on a park bench, and reflects upon how cruel Markus was to her. She soon discovers that she has nowhere to go and ends up living on the street for over two months, where she contracts severe bronchitis and ends up in the hospital. When she recovers, she remembers her mother telling her that a friend in Vienna that Marji stayed with when she first got there owes her some money. She goes to pick it up, and discovers that her parents have been desperately trying to contact her for the two months she spent on the streets. She arranges with her parents to go back to Iran.
Section 10 (The Return) After living in Vienna for 4 years, Marji finally returns to Tehran. She can feel the oppression in the air, now more so than ever. At the airport, she recognizes her parents instantly, noticing the war has aged them faster than time normally would. Marji has changed so much, her parents don't even recognize her until she approaches them herself. On the way home, she sits in silence as she tries to take in being back on Iranian soil. The next morning, she takes notice of the things around her room that were remnants of her "punk" younger years. She sponges off a punk she had drawn on her wall as an action to move on to the future. A few hours after doing so, she decides to go out. Donning her veil once more, she takes in the 65-foot murals of martyrs, rebel slogans, and the streets renamed after the dead. She hurries home. When her father arrives, there is slight awkwardness until he starts to tell Marji the story of the war. He tells her of the horrors and they talk deep into the night. After hearing what her parents had gone through while she was away in Vienna, she resolves to never tell them of her time there.
Section 11 (The Joke): Despite her reluctance, Marji is visited by her entire family. Following her family, her friends come to visit. Marji feels awkward because all her friends "looked like American TV heroines". A few days later, she tells her Mom the only friend she would like to see is Kia, but her mother and grandmother act awkwardly until they reveal he was required to do military service and is now disabled. Marji phones him and is relieved to hear that he still sounds perfectly normal. The next day, she drives to his home. The second he opens the door, she sees that he is now in a wheelchair. While they make small talk, Marji refuses to look at him anywhere but in the eye. However, when he goes to get them drinks, she notices he has lost his left arm and his leg is now a prosthetic. Kia tells Marji a story. It's the story of a man who is blown into a thousand pieces by a grenade and put back together in a hospital. Once he is released, he gets his life back on track and meets a girl that he marries. On the honeymoon night things take a turn for the worse when the girl realizes the man's "thing" is on his hip instead of its rightful place. The woman declares divorce and walks out on him. Kia finishes the story by repeating the man's final words: "Kiss my ass" whilst pointing at his armpit. They find this ridiculously funny and share a long laugh.
Section 12 (Skiing): Several weeks after moving back to Tehran, Marji is still in an awkward funk that she can't break out of. Her time in Vienna was catching up with her and weighed her down. She became depressed; all she did was smoke and be a couch potato all day. As an attempt to lift her depression, her friends decide to take her skiing. Marji reluctantly accepts the invitation. She is criticized by her friends once she admits that she has had multiple sexual experiences. She returns home even more depressed. She decides to visit a shrink, but is unsatisfied with his answer. She visits two more until the last one simply puts her on medication. When her parents leave for a ten-day vacation, she drinks half a bottle of vodka and tries to slit her wrists. When that failed, she decided to swallow all her anti-depressant pills. She wakes up three days later and is rattled by hallucinations. Because it didn't kill her, Marji thinks that this is a sign that she shouldn't die. She then does a self-transformation - hair-removal, new wardrobe, a perm, makeup, and exercise. She continues exercising to the point where she becomes an aerobics instructor.
Section 13 (The Exam): Marji goes to a party hosted by a new friend of hers named Roxana. There she meets a young man named Reza. They talk and flirt for a while, but when Roxana notices she tries to warn Marji that Reza is a "lady's man" and to watch out for him. After a while Marji realizes that the rumors about Reza are false and that Roxana only told Marji those things so that her best friend could date him. But Marji and Reza completely hit it off, and after that night Roxana never wanted to speak to her again. Marji and Reza become a couple and decide to move out of the country to have a better future for themselves. Although they realized getting a visa would be difficult, so they both decide to study hard for the National Exam in order to enter University so as not to feel like they wasted their lives. After lots of hard work and studying, the results came back and both Marji and Reza passed. Marji was admitted for Graphic Arts, and when she went home to tell her parents, they told her that she now has to take an ideological test, and has to know how to pray in Arabic, know the names of all the Imams, their histories, etc. So Marji decides to pray for the strength to get her through her last hurdle.
Section 14 (The Makeup): Wearing makeup of any kind is illegal in Iran. When on the street, Marji sees a bus and car which is full of guards and together mean a raid. At the time Marji was wearing lipstick, and had to prevent herself from getting caught. To evade capture, instead of being "seen" with makeup, she went up to the guards and said an innocent man talked indecently to her. The guards arrested the man. Later, she met up with Reza, but were confronted by guards once again. In this case, it was not socially acceptable for her to be with a man to whom she wasn't married. They were forced to pay a fine to evade torture. Afterwards, Marji attempted to tell the story of the innocent man to her grandma, but was scolded for her selfishness instead.
Section 15 (The Convocation): Marji and Reza still have to hide their love from the general public for fear of prosecution since they are not married. At the University the students are still divided between the sexes but that doesn't stop any of them from flirting with each other. Marji makes friends with two other women from the University; Niyoosha and Shouka. They both have ideals very similar to Marji's so they all hit it off right away. There is a meeting at the Amphitheater with the administrator's of the University to lecture the students on how they need to dress more modestly, especially the females; and how they need to wear their veil more properly, and to cover up more. Marji speaks out and calls them out on their hypocrisy for not allowing the same treatment towards men and also mentions how as an art student she needs to work more freely without the constraints of her headscarf. Marji is then summoned by the Islamic Commission and instead of being expelled, gets a warning not to do anything like that again. Her grandmother finally makes up with Marji from her makeup incident and tells her that she is very proud of her for sticking up for herself and other citizens.
Section 16 (The Socks): Marji continues to take art classes but they are becoming quite difficult, as the female students are not allowed to draw images of men or even have men pose for them. And when they try to draw posed women, the women can only wear their veils, and Marji points out privately how difficult it is to draw someone when all you can see is their face. Despite everything, Marji, Reza and their friends try to live a normal life as possible. They hold secret parties at each other's houses until one day, a group of Guardians of the Revolution catch them through the apartment window and break up the party, arresting the women and some of the men while the other men from the party try to escape. They roof jump to get away from the Guardians, but Farzad doesn't make it, and falls to his death. The others get bailed out of jail by their parents and meet up to grieve over the loss of their friend, but they try to move on as best as possible.
Section 17 (The Wedding): In 1991 Reza proposes marriage to Marji, at first she is surprised and not quite sure if she wants to. But she realizes she still loves Reza and so accepts. Shortly afterwards, with their parents blessing (Marji's mother Taji takes some talking to) they have a big wedding. During the wedding celebration, Marji senses her mother is unhappy, and talks to her in the restroom. Taji admits to Marji that she still didn't want the wedding to happen and was disappointed that Marji wanted to get married so young. She tells her she still wanted her to be independent and have freedom, but Marji reassures her that this is what she wanted and that everything would be alright. Marji comes to quickly regret that, as soon as the wedding ends, she feels she is now trapped in the role of a permanent wife and feels as though she has lost her freedom. Soon after that, married life for Marji and Reza spirals out of control and they end up fighting more than usual, and sleeping in separate beds.
Section 18 (The Satellite): The war between Iraq and Kuwait had begun and it had gotten so bad that panic had begun to spread throughout Europe. Although Marji and her father Ebi, found the whole thing amusing. Many Iranians didn't really care about the war between Iraq and Kuwait as they were simply happy that they didn't have to be a part of war anymore. Later on a friend of Marji's named Fariborz had recently installed a satellite antenna at his house, and they were all invited to check it out. They are amazed at the sight of it, and spend hours at his house watching anything that was there, since for so many years the Islamic regime had complete control over what Iranians could watch. Many of the wealthier residents of Northern Teheran had to cover their satellite dishes during the day so as not to get caught by the Guardians. Even Marji's parents install an antenna for their house. Ebi senses that Marji is not happy in her marriage and tries to talk to her about it, but she gets angry at the conversation and leaves. Marji spends most of her free time conversing with older intellectuals about all things politics, especially of their country.
Section 19 (The End): In 1994 Marji and Reza decide to put aside their differences and work together on a project for their end of the year University assignment before graduation. They are assigned to create a theme park based on their mythological heroes. They later have to present their project to a panel of judges for their dissertation. They receive a twenty out of twenty mark and are praised for their hard work. The main judge mentions that they should propose their project to the mayor of Tehran. Marji goes to the mayor with the work and shows him one of her drawings of Gord Afarid. The mayor is impressed with the work but comments that it would eventually be unacceptable as many of the female characters are without veils and that the government would ultimately not accept their project. Marji is disappointed but leaves.
Later on Marji confides in a friend, Farnaz, that she no longer loves Reza and wants a divorce. But Farnaz tells her that divorced women would be forever scorned and would constantly be hit on by perverted men, and that she would be better off staying with Reza to avoid all of that. So Marji confides in her grandmother about it, and her grandmother tells her that if she wants a divorce then she has every right to have one, and then tells Marji an old secret that fifty-five years before she had a divorce herself. She assures Marji that she should do what makes HER happy and not what anyone else wants. After much contemplation, including a few incidents at her new job as an illustrator for an economics magazine, Marji decides it's time to talk with Reza about separating. He tells her that he still wants to try to make it work and that he is still in love with her, but Marji insists that this is for the best, and that if they stay together any longer, the love will eventually dissipate and then they will truly feel trapped. Marji goes to her parents and tells them about her and Reza's divorce. Her father finally admits that he knew it would happen eventually but never said anything since he wanted Marji to learn from her own mistakes. Her parents tell her that despite everything they are still very proud of her and admire her growing maturity over the years, and that no matter what, she has always remained true to herself. Her parents suggest that she should leave Iran permanently and live a better life back in Europe.
In late 1994 before her departure for Europe, Marji takes a trip to the countryside outside of Teheran to get one last taste of the Iranian scenery and also goes to the Caspian Sea with her grandmother. She then went to the grave of her grandfather promising him that she will continue to make him proud; and then went behind the prison building where her uncle Anoosh was buried and promised him that she would continue to try to live as honestly as possible. She then spent the rest of the summer with her parents and had many wonderful moments with them. Finally in the autumn, Marji along with her parents and grandmother went to Mehrabad Airport for their final goodbyes as she heads off to live in Paris. After many tears and hugs goodbye, Marji's mother tells her, "This time, you're leaving for good. You are a free woman. The Iran of today is not for you. I forbid you to come back!" Marji agrees. Marji gets behind the gate ready to board the plane and turns around one final time to wave goodbye to her family. She then headed off to live her new life in Paris. The last time Marji saw her grandmother was only one more time during the Iranian New Year of 1995, for the woman had died in 1996. With the final quote of the book, "Freedom had a price."
The original French series was published by L'Association in four volumes, one volume per year, from 2000 to 2003. Persepolis, tome 1 ends at the outbreak of war; Persepolis, tome 2 ends with Marji boarding a plane for Austria; Persepolis, tome 3 ends with Marji putting on a veil to return to Iran; Persepolis, tome 4 concludes the work. When the series gained critical acclaim, it was translated into many different languages. In 2003, Pantheon Books published parts 1 and 2 in a single volume English translation (with new cover art) under the title Persepolis; parts 3 and 4 (also with new cover art) followed in 2004 as Persepolis 2. The English translators were Blake Ferris and Mattias Ripa, Satrapi's husband. In October 2007, Pantheon repackaged the two English language volumes in a single volume (with film tie-in cover art) under the title The Complete Persepolis.
- Marjane (main character): Marji (short for Marjane) is a strong girl, who follows in her parents' foot steps. Even though Marji's view of the world changes as she grows, from a small little girl to a full grown woman, her feelings on life remain the same and has always been a fighter. She strongly believes in fighting for what you believe in. Sometimes her actions seem rebellious, and they get her into trouble, but this doesn't change her feelings or ambitions.
- Mrs. Satrapi or Taji (Marji's mother): Taji is a passionate woman, who is upset with the way things are going in Iran, including the elimination of personal freedoms, and violent attacks on innocent people. She actively takes part in her local government by attending many protests.
- Mr. Satrapi or Ebi (Marji's father): He also takes part in many political protests with Taji. He takes photographs of riots, which was illegal and very dangerous, if you got caught.
- Marji's Grandmother: Marji's Grandmother develops a close relationship with Marji . She helps comfort Marjane when her father doesn't return from a riot. She enjoys telling Marji stories of her past, and Marjane's Grandfather.
- Uncle Anoosh: He is a hero in Marjane's eyes. He went to the U.S.S.R. to get married; later he got a divorce. He was imprisoned for nine years after an attempt to re-enter Iran. Anoosh is seen as a hero in Marjane's eyes and develops a close relationship with her right before he is executed.
- Julie: A friend of Marjane who takes her in when she is kicked out of the Catholic boarding facility in Vienna. Unlike the main character, Marjane, Julie is very open about her sexual encounters and experiences. Julie represents Western society, carrying with her every aspect of it.
- Kia: One of Marjane's childhood friends who eventually left for America.
- Siamak and Mohsen: Two friends of Marjane's family who are freed political prisoners. Both were beaten and tortured in prison. They are known as heroes. Unfortunately, Mohsen is found drowned in his bathtub (believed to be murder, seeing as only his head is underwater) and Siamak, his wife, and his daughter cross the border-- hidden among a flock of sheep.
- Mehridia: The maid of Marjane's house. She became friends with Marjane during her childhood. She had a secret relationship with the neighbor boy. She was illiterate, so she had Marjane write love letters to the neighbor boy for her.
- Mali: Marji's mother's childhood friend whose family got bombed. They ended up staying with the Satrapis for a week.
- Reza: Marji's husband of 2 years
The comics were generally well received in Western countries following its release. For example, TIME included the first part in its "Best Comics of 2003" list. Andrew Arnold of TIME described the Persepolis as "sometimes funny and sometimes sad but always sincere and revealing." Kristin Anderson of The Oxonian Review of Books of Balliol College, University of Oxford said "While Persepolis’ feistiness and creativity pay tribute as much to Satrapi herself as to contemporary Iran, if her aim is to humanise her homeland, this amiable, sardonic and very candid memoir couldn’t do a better job."
Persepolis has been challenged multiple times. In March 2013, the Chicago Public Schools controversially ordered copies of Persepolis to be removed from seventh-grade classrooms, after CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett determined that the book "contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use." It was included on the American Library Association's list of the 10 most frequently challenged books in 2014. It had been challenged for "gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint."
Persepolis has been adapted into an animated film, by Sony Pictures Classics. The film is voiced by Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian, among others. It debuted at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. The film drew complaints from the Iranian government even before its debut at the festival. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007 for best animated feature.
With Satrapi’s permission, an updated version has been created, combining her illustrations with new text about Iran’s 2009 presidential election. This work, called Persepolis 2.0 was published online. It originally published at a website called "Spread Persepolis" and an archived version is available at Scribd.com. The authors of the comic are two Iranian-born artists who live in Shanghai and who give their names only as Payman and Sina.
This revised edition is only ten pages long, and recounts the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 12.
The authors have used the original drawings by Satrapi, changing the text, and inserting one new drawing, letting Marjane tell her parents to stop reading the newspaper but instead turn their attention to the internet and Twitter during the protests.
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