Book of the Month – Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Hello beautiful cats! How is everything with you? Here it’s all good and I feel like talking about books. The idea behind this blog, when I started it, was to talk about veganism, vegan food and books (as well as sharing my love for cats). So today I would like to start a “Book of the Month” feature. And the book for this month is “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return

I might be a bit late on this, as I’ve recently learned that they made a motion picture of it, but it was quite a long time that I have been reading brilliant reviews of this book. And I finally know why. Satrapi actually wrote two books: “The Story of a Childhood” and “The Story of a Return”. Luckily, the version that the library has is the complete Persepolis, which includes both Satrapi’s books.

I opted for this because it’s a Young Adult book and the format is graphic novel: July has been an extra hectic month and I felt if I wanted to read, it needed to be something “light” as the mean, not the content, and a graphic novel would have been easier to read than another format.

The book is about the life of teenage Marjane in Iran during the change of regime at the end of the 1970s, her being sent by her parents for some time to Austria and her return to Iran in the 1990s.

It was enlightening because it gives a very different account of Iran than what we are used to hearing on the subject in the West. It might not be a comfortable read for some as it clearly states that the West has used many tactics over the years in order to appropriate Iran’s resources (i.e. oil). In the Introduction, we read:

"In the second millennium D.C., while the Elam nation was developing a civilization alongside Bbaylon, Indo-European invaders gave their name to the immense Iranian plateau where they settled. The word "Iran" was derived from "Ayryana Vaejo" which means "the origin o the Aryans." These people were semi-nomads whose descendants were the Medes and the Persians. The Medes founded the first Iranian nation in the seventh century B.C.: it was destroyed by Cyrus the GReat. He established what became one of the largest empires of the ancient world, the Persian Empire, in the sixth century B.C. Iran was referred to as Persia - its Greek name - until 1935 when Reza Shah, the father of the last Shah of Iran, asked everyone to call the country Iran.
Iran was rich. Because of its wealth and its geographic location, it invited attacks: from Alexander the Great, from its Arab neighbours to the west, from Turkish and Mongolian conquerors, Iran was often subject to foreign domination. Yet the Persian language and culture withstood these invasions. The invaders assimilated into this strong culture, and in some ways they became Iranians themselves.
In the nineteenth century, Iran entered a new phase. Reza Shah decided to modernize and westernize the country, but meanwhile a fresh source of wealth was discovered: oil. And with the oil came another invasion. The West, particularly Great Britain, wielded a strong influence on the Iranian economy. During the Second World War, the British, Soviets, and Americans asked Reza Shah to ally himself with them against Germany. But Reza Shah, who sympathized with the Germans, declared Iran a neutral zone. So the Allies invaded and occupied Iran. Reza Shah was sent into exile and was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was known simply as the Shah.
In 1951, Mohammed Mossadeq, then prime minister of Iran, nationalized the oil industry. In retaliation, Great Britain organized an embargo on all exports of oil from Iran. In 1953, the CIA, with the help of British intelligence, organized a coup against him. Mossadeq was overthrown and the Shah, who had earlier escaped from the country, returned to power. The Shah stayed on the throne until 1979, when he fled Iran to escape the Islamic revolution.
Since then, this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection to 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 prison 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 homelands to be forgotten.
One can forgive but one should never forget.
Marjane Satrapi
Paris, September 2002"


When reading this and all through the book, one might very probably see how it can resonate with what is happening now with the war in Ukraine. But also the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Yemen and all those countries that are affected by armed conflicts.

Persepolis is certainly a stimulating book that should be on the reading lists of every school.

Some extracts from the books

Satrapi’s father says “As long as there is oil in the Middle East we will never have peace” p.43

And again, her father says during a conversation with the author “This entire war was just a big setup to destroy both the Iranian and the Iraqi armies. The former was the most powerful in the Middle East in 1980, and the latter represented a real danger to Israel. The West sold weapons to both camps and we, we were stupid enough to enter into this cynical game… eight years of war for nothing. So now the State names streets after martyrs to flatter the families of the victims. In this way, perhaps, they’ll find some meaning in all this absurdity. ” p.255

Continuing on the topic, he also explains what happened before the armistice with Iraq: “One month before the armistice, Iraq began bombing Tehran every day, as if it were necessary to destroy as much as possible before it was over… The peace hadn’t yet been announced when the armed groups opposed to the Islamic Regime, the Iranian Mujahideen [the term Mujahideen isn’t specific to Afghanistan. It means a combatant.], entered the country from the Iraqi border with the support of Saddam Hussain to liberate Itan from the hands of its fundamentalist leaders. […] The Mujahideen thought that since it was the end of the war, our army wouldn’t have the strength to fight anymore. So, the Mujahideen also knew that the majority of Iranians were against the Regime, and they were therefore counting on popular support. But there was one thing that wasn’t in their calculations: they entered from Iraq. The same Iraq that had attacked us and against whom we had been fighting for eight years. With the result that, when they arrived in Iran, no one welcomed them. For the most part, they were killed by the Guardians of the Revolution and the army. But the Regime got scared because if these opponents had reached Tehran, they would have freed those who represented a real threat to the government that is to say the political prisoners who were the legitimate heirs of the Revolution and who constituted our Country’s intelligentsia so that the State decided to eliminate the problem. The following choice to the detainees: either they could renounce their revolutionary ideas, and promise fidelity and loyalty to the Islamic Republic, in which case they were done serving their time, or they would be executed, And, well, most of them were executed.” pp. 256-258

As Marjane started attending the College of Art in Iran, she come in touch with the reality of living in her home country and when thinking about the condition of the woman in the Regime she considered: “The Regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough?’, ‘Is my veil in place?’, ‘Can my make-up be seen?’, ‘Are they going to whip me?’ no longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought?’, ‘My life, is it livable?’, ‘Where is my freedom of speech?’, ‘What’s going on in the political prisons?’. It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression. Showing your hair or putting on makeup logically became acts of rebellion.” p.304

Regarding the war in Kuwait, there is a conversation between Marjane and her parents. Marjane’s mother: “Since when have you trusted our media? Their objective consists of making anti-Western propaganda.” Marjane: “Don’t let it get to you, mom! The Western media also fights against us. That’s where our reputation as fundamentalists and terrorists comes from!”. Marjane’s mother: “You’re right. Between one’s fanaticism and the other’s disdain, it’s hard to know which side to choose. Personally, I hate Saddam and I have no sympathy for the Kuwaitis, but I hate just as much the cynicism of the allies who call themselves ‘liberators’ while they’re here for the oil.” Marjane’s father: “Exactly. Just look at Afghanistan! They fought there for ten years. There were 900,000 dead and today the country is still in chaos. No one lifted a finger! Because Afghanistan is poor! The worst is that the intervention in Kuwait is done in the name of human rights!” p.324


As a kid in Europe, I’ve always heard of all the contemporary wars that have taken place (and are taking place) in the Middle East: all the various conflicts for all the different reasons. The reasons that are given by the West. Hence, this is a great read to get another perspective, another point of view on these conflicts with which we think we are familiar.

It’s been a very interesting read: it might not be the typical “beach read”, but it is well worth reading!

If you plan on reading it, or you’ve read it, let me know what you think about it.



2 thoughts on “Book of the Month – Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s