Review of 'Persepolis 2' by Marjane Satrapi, Jonathan Cape £12.99
Marjane Satrapi's outstanding biography continues with this bittersweet graphic novel. In 1984 a 14 year old Marjane managed to leave the repressive Iran of the Mullahs to continue her education in Europe. The first part of the book deals with her years in Austria in which she copes with the disorientation of puberty and the temptations of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The most charming scenes in this section are her ventures into politics. Her encounter with an 'anarchist revolutionary group' turns out to be a nothing more than a good natured barbecue in the Viennese woods. She attempts to put Simone de Beauvoir's feminist theories into practice by urinating standing up, an experience which means she just wets her leg. More seriously, the election of wartime Nazi Kurt Waldheim as president of Austria during this period reminds her just how fragile 'western democracy' really is.
After four years of a marginalised and 'alternative' lifestyle, largely thrust on her by the petty racism of Austrian society, Satrapi returned to Iran.
While she was away the Iran-Iraq war had been fought, a war which claimed over 200,000 Iranian lives, and left 400,000 wounded. Tehran was a different city from the one she left. The cult of the war dead - the so called martyrs - was ubiquitous, entrenched in new street names and in huge murals hung from every building.
Satrapi found it difficult to adjust to the repression in Iran. The same spirit that told a group of racist nuns where to go in Austria wanted to treat the theocracy that controlled her life in Iran in the same way.
This is the best bit of the book - where she records the absurdities of life under totalitarian religious control. She enrolled as an art student but found the only life studies her class could draw were burka-clad women. Her class got very good at drawing black cloth. Some 'Guardians of the Revolution' (religious police) stopped her running for a bus because her movements looked 'obscene'. 'Well then, don't look at my ass!' she replied.
Satrapi records an increasingly schizophrenic society, one that has to obey puritanical dictates of the regime by day, but parties hard in secret at night. Rebellion was possible but subtle. For women it hinged on details like having a personal stereo, showing your wrist through the heavy black clothing you were required to wear, or even by laughing loudly. But after six years Satrapi caught herself asking, 'Is my veil in place?' or, 'Are my trousers long enough?' rather than, 'Where is my freedom of thought?' or, 'My life, is it liveable?' and decided enough was enough.
In 1994 Satrapi left Iran, and her incredibly supportive family, to study art in France.
This is a moving story wonderfully told, a great biography that says a lot about Satrapi, and about the society that shaped her. It's a great achievement.