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Book Review


By Marjane Satrapi, Pantheon, April 2003.
Review by Rollie Lal , RAND Corporation

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is a remarkable story of life in Iran after the revolution told through the eyes of a child. Satrapi follows her memories from the age of 6 to 14 in comics that are often amusing, at times extremely sad, but consistently insightful. The sudden imposition of headscarves in her school is approached with humor and a dose of cynicism. The girls are seen playing jump rope with the scarves tied together, oblivious to their significance and more than a little annoyed at their inconvenience. Her parents join in protests and continue to engage in small rebellions, such as hosting parties with alcohol, but are determined not to leave their home for another country. Satrapi's childhood thoughts reflect the confusion that arises from radical societal change. At one point, she believes that she has been chosen to be the next prophet, at another she protests against the religious zealotry.

Childlike innocence also provides the context for delving into difficult social issues, for example, why her young and attractive nanny cannot marry the elite boy next door. The black and white cartoons convey complex ideas easily for those who are not familiar with Iranian culture and history, and Satrapi is extremely persuasive in portraying the personal significance of every moment. The sense of tragedy is absolute when her beloved uncle is taken by the authorities and killed for seditious activities. Conversations between children bring the debate between the intellectual elite of Iran and the Islamic leadership to the individual level, creating a fascinating exchange of an otherwise dry topic. Satrapi deftly and poignantly illuminates the paradoxical nature of life in Iran during this period of change, offering in Persepolis a wonderful memoir that reveals the strength of humanity during a dark moment of history.

Dr. Rollie Lal is a Political Scientist at RAND. She is a South Asia specialist, with extensive experience analyzing the foreign relations and internal dynamics of India and Pakistan, and the national interests of India and China. She also conducts regional analyses of China, Central Asia, and North Africa, and recently completed research on political Islam and insurgencies in India and North Africa. Dr. Lal is a co-author of the recently published America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, author of "The Hindu Muslim Divide," published in the Atlantic Monthly, and various articles in the Financial Times, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Yomiuri. Prior to coming to RAND, Dr. Lal was the Associate Director of the South Asia Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). She is also a former foreign correspondent for the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, and holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland at College Park, and an M.A. in Strategic Studies and a Ph.D. in International Relations from Johns Hopkins SAIS.