Welcome back to another edition of Belle Lettres, my fellow Germs! Summertime is upon us, which means summer break from classes, new adventures, and enjoying time with family and friends. For the month of June, we will be focusing on Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi is a graphic novelist (although she prefers the term comic book artist), illustrator, film director, and cartoonist. She is most known for her autobiographical novel, Persepolis, which was made into a film in 2007.
Marjane Satrapi was born in Rasht, Iran, on November 22, 1969. Her parents, Ehi and Taj Satrapi, were an engineer and a clothes designer respectively, and they were both political activists who opposed the monarchy of the last Shah of Iran.
When Satrapi was 14, her parents sent her to Austria to study at the Lycee Francais de Vienne, where she stayed throughout her teenage years.
After a life-threatening bout with pneumonia when she was homeless, Satrapi moved back to Tehran. She studied visual communication at the Islamic Azad University and received her Master’s degree. After a divorce from her 2-year marriage, Satrapi moved to France and obtained a degree in Art.
After receiving Maus, a comic book based on the Holocaust, as a birthday present, Satrapi became fascinated with the way art was able to tell so many stories. It was at this point that she decided to use comic books as her form of storytelling. Published first in French, Persepolis was released in 2000 and was divided into four parts. Parts 1 and 2 cover Satrapi’s childhood years until her early teenage years, and parts 3 and 4 (published in 2003) pick up from when she was 14 until her early 20s, when Satrapi left Iran once again to live in France. The novel’s title was the original name of the capital city of the Persian Empire.
Thanks to the illustrations, the reader is given a vivid description of life under the regimes of the Shia and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Satrapi also shows the multifaceted lives of Iranians who were usually portrayed as one-dimensional because of stereotypes. By telling her story from childhood to early adulthood, Satrapi is able to showcase a balanced view between a child’s perspective on how she reacts to the change of the world around her and the complex beliefs of adulthood. She shows people like herself who defies violent, political oppression and injustice.
Persepolis won a Time Magazine award for Best Comics of the Year and the New York Times Notable Book award. Persepolis has also been included on the American Library Association’s list of the 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books in 2014.
In 2007, Persepolis was made into a film, directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. The film, like the novel, was met with positive reviews. Persepolis was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and won two Cesar Awards for Best Writing Adaptation and Best First Work.
Satrapi published her second comic book novel, Embroideries, in 2003. We return to her childhood, but it is not a continuation of Persepolis. This novel shows the connections between the female members of her family and their friends as they exchange stories after the men have left to take a nap. Satrapi invites the reader into an intimate space, where the women are free-thinking and funny and find a commonality with each other through gossip. Embroideries was nominated for the Angouleme Album of the Year in 2003.
Satrapi published her third novel, Chicken with Plums, first in French in 2004 and then in English in 2006. Chicken with Plums is loosely based on the last eight days of Satrapi’s great uncle, Nasser Ali Khan. The novel’s protagonist gives up on the world when his beloved instrument, the tar, breaks. Unlike Persepolis, Chicken with Plums focuses on life before the intrusion of Iranian politics, dealing with themes such as nostalgia, loss, family, art, passion, and how small pleasures — such as the protagonist’s favorite dish, the novel’s title — doesn’t comfort him in the face of death. Satrapi once again worked with Vincent Paronnaud to create the film version of Chicken with Plums, which was released in 2011.
Satrapi directed and starred in a comedy crime film called Gang of the Jotas in 2012, and she directed The Voices in 2014. She currently lives in Paris with her husband.
Even though Satrapi writes from a personal perspective, she molds her narrative in such a way that makes it universal. Satrapi was included on Comic Alliance’s list of 12 Women in Comics who Deserve Lifetime Achievement Recognition. Satrapi’s infusion of writing and comic books express unifying themes such as family, creativity and dealing with systemic and religious oppression. She creates a world for young women like herself to effectively tell their stories through visual and written art form.