Banned Book Club: Persepolis

Title: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Published: 2003

Author: Marjane Satrapi

Challenge status: Included on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s list of case studies. Book #18 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: In 2013 (i.e. this year), Persepolis was removed from classrooms in the Chicago area. This case is a bit confusing as there seem to have been some attempts to remove it from school libraries as well as (specifically) seventh-grade classrooms. The book was considered inappropriate for seventh (and potentially 8th-10th graders) due to graphic depictions of violence & torture.

First line: “This is me when I was 10 years old”


Persepolis is an amazing book, a memoir and coming-of-age story set in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. Originally published in France (2000), the book was released in English in 2003 and immediately drew praise (made Time Magazine  and NY Times lists for notable books of the year it was published). It was also adapted to a feature length movie (animated) in 2007 (nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize).

Marji is a student, a prophet, a trouble-maker, a revolutionary, a martyr, a matchmaker, and a punk rocker. In other words she’s a little girl in the process of growing up. Growing-up in a country that is in the is in the process of transitioning from something rigid, to something chaotic, and morphing into something even more fervent and confusing. Marjane Satrapi teases out insightful, clever vignettes that illustrate the hilarious and the heartbreaking with equal grace. How eye-opening to see both the small realities (introduction of the veil, how children played, how michael jackson was interpreted by iranian hipsters) and the more dramatic turns of fate (routine bombings, cultural vigilantes, disappearing friends and relatives).

I guess what I like about Persepolis is that it provides a clear illustration how quickly cultures can change around us: initially Marji was growing up in a progressive, modern culture that encouraged her mind and gave her freedom to explore. She had many advantages simply due to her family’s outlook and philosophy, but also because society-at-large flexed enough to allow for some independent growth and experimentation. And as culture morphed, as fear became more pervasive, small freedoms previously assumed disappeared or became restricted enough that growth became difficult and experimentation dangerous. And sadly this new danger appeared for Marji just as she was in adolescence and full of questions, wildness, and rebellion.

Another takeaway for me is how small freedoms were sacrificed for personal safety, and then most freedoms and all personal safety were also lost. But how could things have turned out differently? I wonder about this. This was not a story of a small, meek populace suddenly overwhelmed by oil money & greed, my impression has always been that there were well-educated and strong-willed people that ended-up undermined by both profits and prophets.

Understanding the context and influences in play would obviously require more work, more history, and probably some classes in political science. The power of Persepolis is something more subtle: the personal narrative and experience intertwined with cultural phenomena as they occurred.

Marjane, I love that you became an aerobics instructor. Punk rock forever.

What do you think?

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