Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

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Literary Criticism and Significance

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood has reached a global market, and Satrapi’s story has been generally well received in the West. In France, where Persepolis was originally published, Satrapi was awarded the Prize for Scenario by the Angoulême International Comics Festival, which is the largest comics festival in Europe. The novel was also listed in TIME Magazine as one of the ten best graphic novels released in 2003.

Commentators consistently praise Satrapi’s sincerity, humor, and touching characters. Satrapi’s simple, direct images lend her graphic memoir a power that would be missing from a written account. Artistically, Persepolis is thus a success, but Satrapi is also attempting to change the international perception of Iran. Has her work achieved its political purposes?

Many commentators have suggested that Satrapi “humanizes” Iran for international audiences. Indeed, although the story is based in Iran and is largely about Iranian history, Satrapi has said that her use of black and white images invites audiences of all ethnic backgrounds to identify with the story itself. Reviewing Persepolis for TIME, Andrew D. Arnold pointed out that Satrapi “provides a unique glimpse into a nearly unknown and unreachable way of life.” However, other commentators have maintained that because Marji comes from such an unusual family—her family is relatively well-off, is unusually well educated, and holds many Western views—the glimpse into Iranian culture that she offers is not that of an insider but that of an outsider.

Due to its critique of Iran’s rulers, Satrapi’s story has not been as well received in her homeland, particularly by fundamentalists and their supporters.

Ultimately, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood has found a wide audience. Currently, Satrapi is mentioned alongside some of the most well-respected names in the medium, including Art Spiegelman (Maus) and Alan Moore (Watchmen). The last test it faces is that of time.

A sequel, The Story of a Return, tells the story of Marji in Austria, of her return to Iran, and of her final departure from her homeland in 1994. Both Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis: The Story of a Return were originally published in French in 2000 and 2001, respectively. In North America, the two stories have since been released in a collected edition, The Complete Persepolis. Because she will not return to Iran from her home in Paris, Satrapi acknowledges that she has no credibility to offer further commentary on the subject and will not write a third installment.

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