There are certain works of art that there’s really no point in reviewing anymore. Not only are the flaws insignificant enough to be omitted, but what has to be said about them has already been said many times over. The Beatles‘ discography, the first two Godfather movies, Breaking Bad– there ought to be a moratorium on reviewing these classics.
When it comes to graphic novels there are a few unimpeachable examples as well: Art Spiegelman‘s Maus, Chris Ware‘s Jimmy Corrigan, and Alan Moore‘s V for Vendetta stand tall. The same can be said for Marjane Satrapi‘s Persepolis 1 & 2, an incredibly powerful duo of books that shine a light on a history that’s not often in the spotlight: The Islamic Revolution in Iran.
If there’s one thing that Satrapi’s books do exceedingly well, it’s the way they make something as foreign as a decades-old war relatable to modern audiences. Satrapi humanizes the experience to the point that the war and violence are almost incidental at times.
That’s to be expected though. The most powerful works of art come from those who followed the adage “write what you know”. When an author channels their life experience into something, the result is genuine. Even if it fails on other fronts, the authenticity behind the project shines through and is often a saving grace. Satrapi lived through all the horrors she writes about, and we see an unfiltered perspective on everything the conflict affected.
Of course there’s the nightmarish aspects such as bombings, interrogations, totalitarianism, and death. But there’s also seemingly trivial ways that life during the revolution was hard that beg for empathy. Rising prices, shattered friendships, failed relationships, the perils of puberty- all these and other fundamentally teenage issues are seen through the lens of war and fascism. The art works wonderfully to show this. It’s simple but bold, incorporating ancient Persian style into its black and white world.
Satrapi’s even-handed approach evokes even more compassion as she points out the natural flaws in everyone. She finds temporary solace in certain ideologies, movements, and people, but finds that there’s always a catch. And it’s not a bad thing, it’s just life. Nobody is demonized (except maybe a few of the dictatorial authorities), they’re just shown with all their uneven edges. Satrapi’s not afraid to turn the spotlight on herself quite a few times as well.
It’s essentially a coming-of-age story wrapped in a war story, and because it’s all a firsthand recollection of these events, it is one of the most fascinating graphic novels ever written.
Final Grade: A+