Book review: Persepolis

In my recent explorations of the comic form, I have been catching up on some classics. Since these are not intended as children’s books (despite some folks prejudices about graphic novels), and since even those of us who don’t think books should have ratings appreciate what others have to say about them, I thought I’d set down my thoughts here. I’m going to give each one it’s own post. First up Persepolis.

I came across this when I saw the movie advertised in my local art cinema coming soon list. Makes me think I’ve been living under a rock, but I’ve discovered it now. The book is autobiographical and was originally published in French in several volumes. Although my library has both the French and English editions, I read the English, one-volume one. The story is of a young girl (about 10) at the time of the Iranian revolution. I like the drawing style (sample pages are included at the link). The story is well told. It is clearly from a particular perspective — that of the child of intellectuals — but that perspective is interesting and gives insight into the various contradictions of radical intellectualism as well as insight into the how the bigger political events shaped everyday life. The author reflects on that choice on this page at the Random House site.

Because the main character is a young girl, I thought that it might be of interest to my daughter. However, because we are dealing with war and difficult political circumstances, I was concerned that it might treat subjects that you wouldn’t want 10 year olds to know too much about if they weren’t in the unfortunate circumstance of living in a war zone. My concerns were unfounded. Although it deals with difficult subjects, it does not dwell on them nor treat them with gratuitous visuals. The author succeeds in maintaining the perspective of the child and things are explained as her parents might well have explained them and as a child would have understood them. While these are difficult things to deal with, including arrest and execution, they are presented in a very matter of fact way that would probably enable a middle-school child to engage meaningfully with the content.

Since my 10 year old child does read the newspaper, including articles about Gaza and honour killings in the middle east, I think the content would be fine for her. She has chosen not to read it right now but if she is interested in the future, I will not hesitate to get it out of the library again. I have no idea what the movie is like. I know that for my daughter, she finds the same subject more disturbing in a movie than in a book (a recent example being the movie of Murder on the Orient Express, which she has read twice and enjoyed). So what I say about the book does not apply to the movie adaptation. If anyone has seen the movie, I would appreciate any thoughts on this in the comments.

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