Since launching her feminist book club in January, Emma Watson has chosen some pretty incredible selections for the members of Our Shared Shelf to read together. From My Life on the Road to The Color Purple, Watson's selections are always smart, absorbing, and thought-provoking reads, but if that isn't enough encouraging praise, I can give you plenty of reasons to read Persepolis with Emma this month. This latest book club pick is not one to be missed.
A two-volume memoir in the form of a graphic novel for young adults, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis tells the story of the author's childhood growing up in Iran through the Islamic Revolution and beyond. A stark and heartbreaking coming-of-age story, Persepolis is more than just a memoir, but rather the story of an entire nation. Accompanied by simple yet powerful black and white comic strip illustrations, it is a personal and intimate reflection of some of Iran's most tumultuous decades, from the the Shah being overthrown to the Islamic Revolution to the war with Iraq. Told through the eyes of a witty and wide-eyed child unlike any you have ever met, Satrapi story offers a different perspective than what we're used to getting, one that combines facts and emotion and cultural history with personal experience.
Persepolis covers some of the biggest moments in Iran's most recent history, but puts them into the important context of the everyday lives of Iranian citizens. The narrator, a young Marjane, doesn't just share current events with readers, she also shares those huge moments that every young girl goes through as they grow up, including first loves, family drama, and the gut-wrenching project of figuring out who you are. Through the two volume graphic memoir, as Satrapi grows and changes, so does her country, each one's struggles reflecting the turmoil of the other. But through the pain and confusion of her own experiences and that of her home, Satrapi manages to find humor, friendship, love, and even hope.
Since its publication, Satrapi's critically acclaimed memoir has been translated into 12 languages, sold over 1,500,000 copies worldwide, and now, it's going to be a part of the coolest book club ever. Those aren't the only reason to read it, though. In case Emma Watson's endorsement isn't enough, here are five other reasons to read Persepolis with Our Shared Shelf this month. It's time to jump on the bandwagon.
1. Satrapi's story gives a voice to an often untold story.
As Marjane Satrapi points out in her introduction, Iran's story is one than many people think they understand, but don't. It's a story often told in terms of violence, religious extremism, and oil production, but the people of Iran and their stories are so much more than what we see on the news. "As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know this image is far from true," Marjane explains. "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."
In writing Persepolis, Marjane hoped to tell the other side of Iran's story, that of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, decent people caught in a country that is continually torn apart and put back together in new and challenging ways. An essential story, one often misunderstood or entirely unheard, you should read Persepolis to better understand the world around you, because even if you think you have all the information, you can never truly understand until you've walked in someone else's shoes. Luckily, this graphic novel allows you to do just that.
2. It's the perfect balance of history and personal narrative.
Persepolis is a unique reading experience for many reasons, but what makes it so special is its combination of deep, personal stories, and modern historical events. In each scene in the book, Satrapi's own experiences are braided together with the experiences of the entire country, providing both a zoomed in, personal perspective and a larger vision of bigger events. It's as interesting and informational as it is inspiring and emotional — a perfectly balanced story that will educate readers with the facts and move them with the personal stories.
3. It will stir your emotions — all of them.
Reading Persepolis is like exploring every emotion in your soul. From the gut-wrenching pain of watching your neighbors fight each other to the warm feelings of falling in love the first time to the burning anger that comes with witnessing so many of the world's injustices, Satrapi's story is a roller coaster of emotions. It will tap into that part of you that makes you uniquely human, and remind you that, underneath our skin color and behind our religious beliefs and despite our different genders, we are all basically the same. We all fear, we all hate, but most importantly, we can all persevere.
4. The illustrations tell a story all on their own.
Flipping through Persepolis, you might not think much of the black and white illustrations, but what looks like a simple comic strip at first glance is, underneath, so much more. Original, fresh, and bursting with emotion, Satrapi's drawings — which feature images of everything daily family life to the horrible violence of war — add another layer to her memoir, enriching her story in a deep and profound way by providing bold and powerful images alongside her already commanding story. If you thought the story stirred your emotions, wait until you really dive into these truly evocative images.
5. With knowledge comes understanding — and tolerance.
Nearly everyone in the United States has a preconceived notion of what they believe Iran to be, and its one that is generally filled with ideas of religious extremism, ongoing violence, or political turmoil — but that's only part of the story, a small part of the story, and Persepolis can help fill in the rest. Satrapi's first-person account of being Iranian and growing up in the country sheds light on the realities of life in Iran and its people, a light that illuminates more than just the country's conflicts, tragedies, and political value in the West.
And, even more importantly, in showing the other side of a story that many people think they know but don't, Persepolis helps teach readers in a bigger way not to judge a culture, religion, or society because of the actions of its most extreme person. Now, more than ever, that message of understanding and tolerance is crucial.
Hurry up and grab your copy of The Complete Persepolis, and get ready to join the conversation with Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads.
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